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Cape Town - Negligence and handling a fire or electrical appliances while intoxicated are among the main causes of fires in Cape Town’s informal settlements, says city disaster management spokesman Wilfred Solomons- Johannes.
He was speaking on Sunday after several shack fires left more than 300 people homeless across the city at the weekend.
Solomons-Johannes said structures were destroyed in Seawinds, Athlone, Milnerton, Langa and Philippi.
He said most of the fires occurred in the early hours of the morning.
The city’s disaster response teams assisted the fire victims with food parcels, hot meals, clothing, blankets and building material. No one was injured.
When the Cape Argus visited the informal settlement in Langa on Sunday, residents were clearing debris and trying to rebuild their homes.
Ncediwe Makiva, a mother of a two-month-old baby, said she had lost everything in the blaze.
She had been living in the shack for five years.
“It’s the first time my house has burnt down. I feel so sad right now,” Makiva said.
Solomons-Johannes said the cause of the fires was still unclear.
He said there had been a noticeable reduction in shack fires this year compared to the previous year, thanks to fire safety awareness campaigns the city had run throughout the year.
“We are doing our utmost by engaging with the community regularly, but it’s also up to them to prevent those [fires] from happening by being vigilant,” he said.
Solomons-Johannes said most fires were caused by unattended cigarettes, matches, lighters, candles, and cooking and heating appliances.
Earlier this month, two people were killed in a shack fire in Joe Slovo Park, Milnerton.
Days earlier, 43 people were left homeless in Scottsville, Kraaifontein. Five days later another 43 people were displaced in separate fires in Strand, Lotus River and Parkwood Estate.
On October 28, a child burnt to death in a shack fire at the Kosovo informal settlement in Philippi. Three men aged between 30 and 40 died in separate fires in Khayelitsha and Heideveld in August. One fire was caused by an unattended electrical stove.
City fire and rescue spokesman Theo Layne said the city had enough manpower and resources to deal with the recent spate of fires.
“There are some periods where there are more incidents than others, like now, but we have enough resources to handle them,” he said.
How to prevent shack fires:
*Keep a close eye on paraffin stoves. Don’t cook near a window with a curtain.
* Make sure candles are secure and can’t fall over. Don’t go to sleep with candles still burning.
* Teach children about the dangers of fire.
* Watch out for discarded cigarette butts.
* Be aware of the dangers of illegal and faulty electricity connections, which also cause fires.
* Keep a bucket handy to fill with water so you can extinguish flames easily.
* Keep a bucket of sand to put out paraffin fires.
* Build dwellings a good distance (at least 3m) apart to prevent fires from spreading throughout the area. Make sure this space is kept open for emergency purposes.