Close to 90% of the fires during South Africa’s winter months are caused by human negligence. This is according to Working on Fire spokesperson Ofentse Letswalo.
Launched in 2003, Working on Fire is an Expanded Public Works Programme that is run by the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment.
Letswalo says the winter months have more fire incidents as people try to keep warm. Candles, open flames, braziers and dry winter grass increase the fire risk.
In readiness for the fire season – which is from May to October – thousands of firefighters from Working on Fire complete Yellow Card Training Camps each year.
“These training camps are for specialised firefighting. After completing a comprehensive initial firefighting training course, these young recruits receive a yellow card as part of their qualification. This card grants a firefighter permission to be deployed to a fire line. Their techniques include firebreaks, passing through a firewall, and theoretical knowledge,” he says.
Busisiwe Mashinini, an instructor at the Kishugu training camp in Mbombela, Mpumalanga, says the Working on Fire teams are encouraged to teach their community members about the dangers of fire.
“Learning about fire hazards is the key to preventing fires from occurring. We plead with community members to work with us in preventing unwanted fires by continuing to educate their peers and children about the dangers of fire,” she says.
Mashinini explains that communities should have an emergency escape plan in place, in case they are faced with a run-away fire; matches should be kept out of children’s reach; candles must not be placed near anything that can catch alight; and wood, dry grass and anything else flammable should not be left in and around the borders of properties.
She urges community members to learn the emergency ‘stop, drop and roll’ action, which should be used when they cannot escape a fire. “Remain calm. Stop what you are doing, drop to the ground, cover your face if possible, and roll over and over until the flames go out. Avoid running as this will only escalate the flames,” says Mashinini.