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More than 120 people have died in fires so far this year and 762 arson attacks have been recorded in the Western Cape during the current financial year.

Theo Layne, the spokesperson for the fire department, said adult males had contributed the most to the stats this year.

About 65 men died as a result of structural fires, compared with the 26 adult females who died. Fatalities for male minors were at 25 to date, and female minors were at 13.

“The total number of fatalities recorded this year by the department sits at 129. This number accounts for deaths from January 1 to November 18,” said Layne.

The causes of these fatalities included:

* Cooking - three

* Candle, heating devices and playing with matches - 26

* Suicide - 1

* Electrical - 3

Stats from the department showed that there were no deaths for smoking in bed.

However, they listed 46 undetermined causes of fire.

“The SAPS are responsible for the investigation when a person succumbs to death in a fire.

“A death inquest case is registered if no foul play is expected and the investigated case docket is then presented to an inquest court for a decision.

“During our investigation, the cause of the fire is established following consultation with the Fire Department.

“However, statistics in this regard cannot be released by this office,” said police spokesperson Andrè Traut.

A station commander at Goodwood Fire Station, Warren Sam, said that if firefighters suspected foul play, they would alert the SAPS and also motivate to their fire investigators why the incident needed further investigation.

He said they checked for things like accelerators, trails, files that may have been removed from the building, cupboards that may have already been emptied and if valuables seemed to have been removed.

“We always ask and check for what happened before the fire. Like if a person was there just before the fire started and if people started running away from the scene when we arrived.”

Sam added that should a body be found after the fire, the firefighters would try and preserve as much evidence as possible.

This is because they didn’t know if the person had been dead before the fire started, or had died in the fire.

Claire Lewis, an investigator at ForScight Forensics, said it was surprising that there were so many undetermined causes of fire, but that it was not highly unlikely if there were multiple ignitors or the fault or source could not be found after samples had been taken.

She said the company had yet to have a case where the cause could not be determined.

However, Lewis said, one could never be 100% sure of the cause and they would look for witnesses to find out where the flames had started and where the smoke had come from first.

“When we get to a fire scene, the body is normally gone and we would be shown where the body was and dig for samples around there and look for the cause of the fire.

“If we get the start of the fire, we will be able to determine the cause, for example an electrical fault.”

Lewis said that while investigators might find fuel on the ground after sample taking, it could not be immediately ruled as arson because that substance may have been there before the fire with good reason.

Weekend Argus