From the news desk

City braces itself for fire season

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With the fire season already in full swing, additional staff and resources have been deployed to bolster the city’s fire-fighting capabilities in the coming weeks. Since the beginning of October, the service has been called into action for a number of structural and vegetation fires, as witnessed by the recent fire in Simon’s Town.
In October this year, fires in informal settlements claimed at least eight lives and left hundreds of residents displaced – with Masiphumelele and Imizamo Yethu worst affected. In the first few weeks of November, staff have battled a number of large vegetation fires in Noordhoek, Table View and Simon’s Town, among others.

The City of Cape Town’s Mayoral Committee Member for Safety and Security, JP Smith said the service was also placed under enormous strain with the raft of protests in the last month – on the various campuses around the city as well as in Vrygrond, Masiphumelele and recently Siqalo. Smith said trotestors who set fire to buildings and vehicles are diverting essential resources from the areas where they are needed most and also place the lives of firefighters in danger as was seen in Siqalo earlier this week.

“The delays caused by some residents attacking the fire engines and firefighters led to 15 structures being destroyed instead of only the four that were on fire when the Fire and Rescue Service teams arrived. Aside from damages to vehicles and injuries to staff, it also drains valuable policing capacity,” said Smith.

To deal with the demands of the fire season, the City’s Fire and Rescue Service is finalising the training of 120 seasonal firefighters who are set to be deployed from 1 December 2015 until the end of April 2016. Their main function will be to assist professional firefighters with veld fires and veld fire management and prevention methods. The seasonal staff and 35 trained reservists will complement the more than 800 professional firefighters who can be called upon for major incidents at any time. A minimum of 240 firefighters are on duty per 24-hour shift at the City’s 30 fire stations across the city.

In addition to the standard firefighting resources, the Fire and Rescue Service diving units will have three crews and rubber ducks available to assist with diving or sea rescue-related incidents. The City will also have two helicopters and a spotter plane available from 1 December and has signed a number of cooperation agreements with other firefighting agencies and neighbouring municipalities.

“We are always on high alert over summer as the conditions favour the spread of fires, but given the weather outlook for this year we will have to be even more alert and responsive. The Simon’s Town fire is a stark reminder not only of how devastating fire can be, but also of how we galvanised our efforts to combat the big South Peninsula fires earlier this year. Challenging though it was, it also highlighted the crucial role that firefighting plays in keeping everyone safe and bore testament to the firefighting capabilities we have at our disposal in Cape Town,” said Smith.

Smith said authorities are particularly concerned about fires in informal settlements and those that affect backyarders. These residents are frequently the victims of fires and suffer the worst outcomes from such fires as the loss of life. Usually, there is no insurance to help them recover from the loss of their home and possessions.
The City has assisted many residents with housing “starter kits” which are donated to residents who have lost their informal homes.

“It cannot recover everything they have lost but at least helps put a roof over their head again. As the only city in the country that distributes such housing relief kits after a fire, we are proud of our commitment to our most vulnerable residents as well as the fact that we have managed to halve the fire mortality rate among backyarders and informal settlements from 100 000 residents in 2005 to 100 000 currently. We also have the lowest overall fire mortality rate of 100 000 compared with other cities which average between 4 – 7 per 100 000 of the population,” added Smith. VOC

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