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Residential fires on the rise, with 210 fatalities recorded in the past three years

The City of Cape Town said 210 people died in house over the last three years fires. Picture: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency(ANA)

The City of Cape Town said 210 people died in house over the last three years fires. Picture: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency(ANA)

Published May 23, 2022

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Cape Town - In the past three years 210 people were killed in house fires, according to statistics the City provided. The death toll, however, continues to climb.

Over the weekend two brothers, Juane Ray, 4, and Xache Weideman, 7, from Bishop Lavis were laid to rest after they died on May 5 when their wendy house caught fire at midnight.

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Last weekend five family members, including two children aged 4 and 5, from France Informal Settlement in Site B, Khayelitsha, died in a shack fire.

Between the period of June and August of 2019, the City recorded 827 fire incidents, which included 416 formal residential and 411 informal settlement fires.

In 2020, 792 incidents were reported, with 440 being formal residential fires and 352 informal settlement fires, while last year during the same period 920 incidents were reported, with 439 formal dwellings and 481 informal settlement fires.

With four shack fire incidents having already occurred in the Philippi area since January, community leader Buzwe Kali said the scheduled load shedding was causing greater concern about increased fires during winter.

“The winter season to us in informal settlements has become synonymous with increased shack fires where many families lose their belongings, and in other cases their lives. This is because during this time people are using different means of keeping warm, and these sometimes prove to be detrimental.

“While there are educational efforts by City officials in ensuring that there is widespread dissemination of information, which is commendable, this does not have the expected results.

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“You might have the necessary information at your disposal, but the reality is that these shacks are built close to each other with no water tanks at our disposal, or proper roads,” he said.

Safety and security Mayco member JP Smith said that in addition to education and awareness outreach programmes, the City continued to invest in resourcing its Fire and Rescue Service to ensure timeous and effective responses to fires and other emergencies.

“Our efforts are not without challenges, however. Fires are often not reported through the correct channels, which slows down response times. In addition, our staff struggle to access some informal settlements, not only to extinguish fires but also for their outreach activities.

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“Where areas are considered red zones, our firefighters will wait for an enforcement escort, because of the sustained attacks on the service in recent years, and then we also have to contend with issues like illegal electricity connections and negligence, often cited as the cause of fires,” he said.

Imizamo Yethu community leader Samkelo Krweqe said that while the ultimate solution to informal settlement fires was the provision of proper housing, he said the City needed to speed up the upgrade of informal settlements.

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