From the news desk

City still counting the cost of fires

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The City of Cape Town and various other agencies are collaborating to determine the financial impact of the recent South Peninsula fire. The assessment will consider the total resources used, costs, and the extent of the damage. At the same time, the investigation into the cause of the fire is continuing, with the assistance of forensic expert Doctor David Klatzow.

The investigation will seek to determine the point of origin and how the fire started, whether there was malicious intent or negligence, and whether anyone can be held accountable.

The South Peninsula fire is one of 7 597 vegetation fires that the City’s Fire and Rescue Service responded to between 1 November 2014 and 12 March 2015. Over the same period, City staff responded to more than 1 609 structural fires.

This is a marked increase compared with the corresponding period in the previous year, when 5 153 vegetation fires and 1 427 structural fires were recorded. It is significant that while there has been an increase in the number of fires, the number of fatalities as a result of fires has decreased from last year. The City has seen reductions in five out of the last six years, probably as a result of the emergency preparedness training given to communities affected by fires.

“This fire season has been one of the busiest in a number of years and, admittedly, it has stretched our resources. However, it is important to remember that in the event of wildfires, resources are pooled and the suppression of these incidents becomes a team effort involving firefighters from various volunteer organisations and different government agencies. It is also important to highlight that the recent fire is not a common occurrence. The last fire of this scale in the South Peninsula was 15 years ago,” said the City’s Mayoral Committee Member for Safety and Security, Alderman JP Smith.

On a day-to-day basis, the City of Cape Town is well equipped to deal with fire incidents, in spite of an increase in the number of fires reported in recent months. Since 2006, the City’s Fire and Rescue Service has received a massive financial injection to bolster its resources. This has included:
• An incremental increase in the number of firefighters, to an overall complement of 900
• Construction of five new fire stations
• Establishment and certification of the Epping Training Academy
• Spend of R293 million on equipment, vehicles, facilities, training and recruiting hundreds of volunteers
• Conducting nearly 800 fire awareness training sessions in all of the high-risk areas of the city in all three languages, amongst a slew of other interventions

An additional R12 million has been secured in this financial year to acquire more fire engines, while an estimated R40 million has been earmarked for the new financial year for additional resources, staff, training and improvement of existing facilities to ensure that the service keeps up with the needs of the city’s growing population.

“As a direct result of the investment in our fire service, our informal settlement fire mortality rate is the lowest of any metro in the country, having dropped from 7,9/100 000 in 2005 to below 4/100 000 last year. This means that we have halved the number of fire-related deaths,” said Smith.

“While the Fire and Rescue Service cannot stop people from starting or causing fires, we can put them out as quickly as possible. The statistics reflect just this. While the number of fires has increased (something that is not within our control), the number of people who have died has continues to decrease every year. We are committed to saving even more lives, which is why we continue to invest in our firefighting service as well as fire awareness training in communities across the city. In this way we can work with our residents to create a truly safe city,” added Alderman Smith. VOC

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