The recent fires in Cape Town highlighted the importance of taking precautions to prevent possible loss of life and property.
Fires are typically seen as disasters that happen to others and not to you and your family. Unfortunately, they frequently occur in homes, especially in properties that are more prone to possible fire damage, such as those near mountains or in dry areas.
Most house fires are sparked by electrical faults, thus regular checks and, if necessary, upgrading of the electrical network are good options. An electrical certificate of compliance issued by an accredited electrician is required by law when a house is sold. However, electrical systems need regular maintenance to ensure everything is still in good order.
• Routinely check that all wiring, plug points and switches in your home meet the required safety standards. If you’re not sure, get an electrician to check the entire installation to ensure that it is safe, that there is no illegal wiring and no deterioration of the system.
• Be sure never to overload electrical outlets with lots of double adaptors or more than one multiplug. Other major causes of electrical fires include faulty appliances such as electric heaters and stoves, and ceiling insulation.
• Check the cables and cords on all electrical appliances and electronic devices and replace any that are frayed or cracked.
• When installing ceiling insulation products over low voltage downlighters, be sure to cut holes above the lights to allow heat to dissipate. Downlighters generate a lot of heat, which can cause beams to start smouldering and eventually burst into flame.
Thatch and timber
If you have a timber home, a thatched roof or a lapa, you must have proper lightning protection, especially in areas where electrical storms are prevalent. Also, the use of fire retardant blankets and water sprinklers inserted at regular intervals in the roofing will significantly lower the risk of fire in timber and thatched homes.
General measures to minimise the risk of fire
• Never leave a lighted candle, a braai fire or other naked flame without an adult in attendance.
• Keep matches, fire lighters and cigarette lighters out of reach of children.
• Adhere to the ban on fireworks in residential neighbourhoods.
• Store gas cylinders, all fuel and flammable chemicals outside your home, and keep pool acid and chlorine separate.
• If your home has a fireplace, get it checked regularly and have the chimney swept to prevent build-up of flammable material.
• Avoid accumulating materials that can act as fuel for a fire. Recycling is commendable, but large piles of cardboard boxes, papers and plastic containers must be contained so that they are not likely to catch fire.
• Keep a fire extinguisher in the kitchen and another in the garage or workshop. Learn how to use them properly and have them serviced and tested regularly.
• If you install smoke alarms, be sure to clean and test them regularly.
Check your home owner’s insurance policy to make sure you are covered for loss in the case of a fire. Take special note of any conditions that exclude fire damage.
Bertus Visser, chief executive of distribution at PSG Insure, says that many flammable items may be stored illegally at home since the Covid-19 lockdown began, and ignoring these can lead to complications when it comes to insurance claims.
“In our post-pandemic environment, some people working from home may be storing work chemicals in home garages or second bedrooms. However, it is not allowable to store high or moderate risk materials at residential premises. Doing so is illegal and your insurance will not cover damage or a loss caused – or exacerbated – by the presence of these items.
“Keep in mind that many household products – from ones that clean kitchen counters to those made for swimming pools – could be hazardous. Fire risk exists the moment flammable items are stored too closely together or unsafely. Paint tins are another example of products that can be disastrous if stored near flammable items. Therefore, you need to ensure you also store household and DIY-items safely.”
The National Building Regulations do not require portable fire extinguishers in freestanding homes. However, to truly prioritise safety, Visser suggests you keep a working fire extinguisher on your property.