How to fireproof your home
AS Southern Africa continues to experience its worst drought in decades, runaway fires are taking an increasing toll on people, animals and properties around the country, and farmers and foresters are not the only ones who need to be better prepared.
Extremely dry conditions and wacky weather patterns have proven to be an ominous combination this season as wildfires pose a threat throughout the country.
But while it’s impossible to completely ensure one’s safety, firescaping can help lessen the dangers, experts say.
While homeowners should start by eliminating overgrown yards, they can replace highly flammable plants and trees, such as eucalyptus and palm trees, with vegetation less likely to burn such as ocotillo, Calla lilies and more. In many cases, the fire-resistant plants are also drought-tolerant, which helps with water conservation efforts.
Then combine that effort with some creative hardscapes, nonflammable fencing and inorganic mulches, and property owners can decrease the chance of fire transmission from any source. According to Richard Gray, CEO of Harcourts Real Estate, there is much that homeowners can do to protect their own families and properties.
He says in more remote areas where there is a serious danger of veld fires due to the dry conditions, homeowners should start by regularly cutting back and removing all grass, trees branches and other combustible material to create a ‘safety zone’ of about 20m to 30m around the home.
“They should also try to have a dedicated firehose that reaches to every part of their property and is permanently connected to a reliable outside water source such as a dam or rainwater tank with a pump, and ensure that everyone on the property knows where it is kept and how it works.
“If the roof is thatched, wetting it thoroughly is the best way to prevent it from catching alight during a fire. A rooftop drencher system is very effective, but failing that, and if you have time, it should be thoroughly doused with a hose.”
Gray says what is most important, however, is that everyone on the property understands the serious danger that veld fires pose, knows how to contact the local fire-fighting team and, especially, has been taught the drill for getting out and away safely when an out-of-control fire poses a sudden threat.
“Similarly, if there is advance warning of fire spreading to the area and you are advised to evacuate your property, your first response should be to make sure that everyone is together and wearing protective clothing, that you have emergency supplies such as drinking water with you, and that you let someone outside the danger area know that you are leaving and where you are planning to go,” he says.
In more urbanised areas and informal settlements, Gray says the biggest fire hazards are electrical faults and open flames on candles, gas appliances, paraffin stoves and cooking and braai fires. He says none of these should ever be left unattended or used without adult supervision.
“Homeowners should always ensure that all open flames are extinguished before everyone goes to sleep, that all gas cylinders used for cooking and other purposes are firmly turned off, and that paraffin stoves and heaters are preferably removed outdoors,” says Gray.
“If there is an internal fireplace or a coal stove on the property, homeowners must make sure the flue and chimney are kept in good repair, and that there is a fireproof area in front of the fireplace so that hot embers that might fall from the grate can’t start a fire.”
Gray says since electrical faults are also a major cause of home fires, homeowners should not forget to check the state of the electrical wiring regularly, ensure that any frayed appliance cords are replaced and refrain from overloading plug sockets.
“Once again, though, what is most impor- tant is to make sure that everyone in the family knows exactly what they should do to get out and stay safe if there is a fire,” he says. Thinking ahead: Your exit plan
As with other things, the best motto is, “Be Prepared.” Prepare a floor plan of your home showing at least two ways out of each room. Sleep with your bedroom door closed. In the event of fire, it helps to hold back heat and smoke. But if a door feels hot, do not open it; escape through another door or window. Agree on a fixed location out-of-doors where family members are to gather for a head count. Stay together away from the fire. Make certain that no one goes back inside the burning building. Check corridors and stairways to make sure they are free of obstructions and combustibles. Electrical hazards
Electricity, the silent servant, can become a silent assassin. It is better not to use extension cords. If you feel you must use one, make sure that it is not frayed or worn. Do not run it under a rug or twist it around a nail or hook. Never overload a socket. In particular, the use outlet extensions that accommodate several plugs, is strongly discouraged. Check periodically for loose wall receptacles, loose wires, or loose lighting fixtures. Sparking means that you’ve waited too long. Allow air space around the TV to prevent overheating. The same applies to plugin radios and stereo sets, and to powerful lamps. If a circuit breaker trips or a fuse blows frequently, immediately cut down on the number of appliances on that line. In many older homes, the capacity of the wiring system has not kept pace with today’s modern appliances. Overloaded electrical systems invite fire. Watch for these overload signals: dimming lights when an appliance goes on, a shrinking TV picture, slow heating appliances, or fuses blowing frequently. Call a qualified electrician to get expert help. Kitchen
Careless cooking is the number one cause of residential fires. Never leave cooking unattended. It’s wise to have a fire extinguisher near the kitchen. Keep it 3 meters away from the stove on the exit side of the kitchen. Never pour water on a grease fire; turn off the stove and cover the pan with a lid, or close the oven door. Keep pot handles on the stove pointing to the back, and always watch young children in the kitchen. Don’t store items on the stove top, as they could catch fire. Keep kitchen appliances clean and in good condition, and turn them off and disconnect them when not in use. Don’t overload kitchen electrical outlets and don’t use appliances with frayed or cracked wires. Be sure your stove is not located under a window in which curtains are hanging. Clean the exhaust hood and duct over the stove regularly. and wipe up spilled grease as soon as the surface of the stove is cool. Operate your microwave only when there is food in it. Children and grandchildren Keep lighters and matches out of the reach of children. Never leave children unattended with fire or heaters. Children are naturally curious about fire, so keep an eye on them. But if a child repeatedly plays with fire or seems to have a morbid fascination with fire, seek professional help at once. If youngsters live with you or stay overnight occasionally, be sure that they know how to escape from every room and are part of your emergency exit plan. PETROL AND OTHER FLAMMABLE LIQUIDS Flammable liquids should be stored only in approved safety containers, and the containers should be kept outside the house and garage in a separate storage shed. Fill up lawn equipment outside, away from enclosed areas and any source of sparks or heat. Start the equipment at least 3 meters from where you filled it with fuel. Don’t fill a hot lawn mower, let it cool first. Never clean floors or do other general cleaning with petrol or flammable liquids. SMOKING
If you actually believe that you’re immune from cancer, heart disease, emphysema, and other ills, at least worry about burning to death. Never smoke in bed. Don’t smoke when you are drinking or are abnormally tired. Use large, deep ashtrays, and empty them frequently. Never dump an ashtray into the trash without wetting the butts and ashes first. — Property24/ruralmetrosa
FIRE can cause many deaths and destroy homes especially in informal settlements.