Over the past five years, there have been devastating fires throughout the world - California, the Amazon, and the latest being Australia, to name but a few. South Africans experience these wildfires on a yearly basis - one of the worst being in 2015 when it destroyed acres of vegetation and killed thousands of innocent wildlife. These fires cost too many people their lives and homes but, if we were all more fire-wise, individually and as communities, the damage would be greatly limited. This piece aims to create awareness around veld fires and provide you with tips on how to fire-proof your home. Share these tips with your loved ones and together, we can make a difference.
Mike Greeff, chief executive of Greeff Christie's International Real Estate, offers advice to homeowners: "Apart from insuring your home against fires, it is recommended to take precautions when doing routine maintenance. Simple things like checking that the contractors and electricians you use are certified to prevent you from having to deal with potentially dangerous and costly consequences."
The Volunteer Wildfire Services that started in Cape Town after the devastating 1999/2000 fires, advise property owners that 'prevention is always better than cure.' Having smoke detectors, sprinkler systems and using fire retardant roofing and insulation are just some small ways to minimise the risk to what is possibly, your greatest asset.
Protecting your home and family from fires can be as simple as taking a few basic precautions. Fire prevention starts with you.
During the process of landscaping, ensure that you are designing your garden in such a way that would make it difficult for a fire to come up to and/or surround your home. There are a few ways that you can change up your yard and garden and become more fire-conscious.
- Cut your grass short in the dry seasons (between December and March). This is always a good move as grass dries out and becomes very combustible in hot weather.
- Remove all the accumulated leaves from the gutters. Embers have the potential to ignite the leaves and this can result in a fire that attacks the most flammable part of your home first i.e. the roof.
- Choose your trees wisely. Often the prettiest ones are the ones that cause the most damage. Conifer trees (pines or firs) contain sap which is very flammable while Wild Oaks are more fire-resistant.
Fire-Proof The Exterior
Although fires tend to run along the surface of the ground, they can sometimes catch onto the trees and this in turn, can damage your home. Take the necessary steps to ensure the safety of your home by applying the following steps.
- Wet down the roof on a regular basis. Flying sparks and embers can grab hold of your roof and set it alight. If it is wet, this will help to extinguish flying sparks before they can spread.
- Wet down any wood on the outside of the home. In a fast-spreading fire, this can help keep flames from catching on the wood. This includes doorways, window frames, decks, and porches. Wet them down thoroughly, not just the surface.
- Opt for tile or metal roofing when replacing a roof. Both materials resist fire which you'll need if you have tall trees which have the potential to set alight. They can be expensive to start, but they last for many years which saves you some money and gives you peace of mind.
- Consider using brick or stone for your home's exterior. Cedar shakes look great but are highly flammable in a fire. Rather choose to finish the bottom part of your home in brick or rock.
- Use fire-retardant paints. One very simple and most inexpensive fix is to add sand to the paint. You will have a rough texture, but it may save your home and well, some money too.
Let's take it inside
Once the outside of your house is fire-proofed, the chances of it getting inside is slim since we're planning for every possibility, take these precautions for the inside of your home. After all, this is where you will be along with your loved ones and the treasures you hold dear.
- Check your smoke detectors. Should a spark hit your roof and catch fire, a smoke detector can save your life. Change the batteries at least twice a year and test them once a month. If you have quite a large home, make sure that the detectors all go off at the same time.
- Have a fire extinguisher on hand. If you don't have one already, make sure to keep at least one fire extinguisher in your house. Ensure that it is in an area of the home that is quick and easy to access so you can just grab it and go.
- Use furnishings made from natural materials. Modern furnishings are made from synthetic materials, which come from petrochemicals. These furnishings, once set alight, burn rapidly and release toxic fumes. Rather choose furnishings that are made from natural materials as these burn more slowly and do not release toxic fumes.
- Put a fire ladder in each adult's bedroom. Fire ladders are made of an aluminum-like material, making it fire-resistant. These fire ladders are essential to helping you get out quickly in case the fire starts upstairs.
In Case of Evacuation
During these wildfires, emergency services will often notify residents regarding possible evacuation. In these instances, it is always best to be prepared.
- Get your emergency kit ready. This bag should contain only the necessary essentials i.e. water, non-perishable food, a flashlight and a first aid kit.
- Pack a bag for each family member. Pack a small bag with clothes, medications, and anything else you may need. Make sure that the bags you pack are easy to carry as you do not want to be slowed down.
- Think about where you will go once you've evacuated. This is imperative especially if you have pets, as many shelters won't allow them to stay with you.
- Get your car ready. Put important documents in your car i.e. ID's, birth certificates, passport and licenses. Be sure to keep the petrol tank full because petrol stations tend to fill up quickly during crisis situations.
- Keep your phone charged. Having your cellphone on is crucial during these times as you will have loved ones wanting to know if you're safe or you might need to call emergency services. As a precautionary measure, get a back-up phone, just in case.
Having said all that, it is important to keep in mind that even though these safety measures are in place, if a fire is hot enough, or burns in an area for a long period of time, none of these measures may help. It goes without saying that if you're in the line of a fire, get out! Your life and the lives of those around you, are more valuable than your home.
24 Feb 2020