As South African residents attempt to keep warm this winter, everyone is turning their heaters to maximum as temperatures drop near freezing at night.
But with warmth comes danger as 40 shacks caught fire in Johannesburg townships. 20 shacks were burnt down to the ground in Alexandra and another 20 in Soweto on Monday evening, killing a one-year-old girl in Meadowlands Zone 5, Soweto, and another toddler sustained serious burn wounds was rushed to the hospital. The cold front has only just begun and is expected to last until Thursday.
Emergency services are on high alert in these areas the whole week with emergency service's Robert Mulaudzi reporting that “In total, about 40 shacks were affected during those incidents. We encourage our residents to continue looking after their heating devices. We’ve activated all our emergency services in affected areas. They are on site and facilitating the relief process by handing out food parcels and facilitating the rebuilding process.”
Disaster management teams in Johannesburg were only sent to these areas on Tuesday morning and affected citizens are receiving relief packages.
However, Johannesburg isn't the only city that is suffering as shack fires have also broken out in Cape Town, killing one woman in Manenberg. Four structures were destroyed and a neighbouring house was damaged. The police are currently investigating the cause of the incident and Theo Layne from emergency services in Cape Town reported that “Four fire engines, one water tanker and one rescue vehicle with 20 firefighters took just under 90 minutes to extinguish the fire. The cause of the fire is not known yet.”
These incidents are common as residents attempt to get warm in front of fires and old gas heaters, these are usually the cause and the fires then spread quickly across the townships. A shack fire in June claimed the lives of five children. President Cyril Ramaphosa reported on the issue last month saying, “This tragedy touches and affects all of us as South Africans, especially as we mark Youth Month, during which our nation’s attention is focused on creating a better life for young people.”
Dispatch Live released an article supplied by the City of Cape Town with 12 tips to prevent shack fires:
- Keep a close eye on paraffin stoves. Don’t cook near a window with a curtain.
- Make sure the stove does not fall over, which may cause a fire and burn children.
- Make sure candles cannot fall over. Don’t go to sleep with candles still burning. Put stones on the bottom of candle holders to prevent them from falling over.
- Watch out for discarded cigarette butts.
- Be aware of the dangers of illegal and faulty electrical connections, which also cause fires.
- Keep a bucket handy to fill with water so that 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. Make sure this space is kept open.
- Teach children about the dangers of fire.
- Keep roads and access to dwellings clear at all times.
- Do not block roads with possessions when there is a fire.
- Do not prevent or disrupt the work of fire crews fighting fires