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How to avoid or fight house fires

Thursday July 13 2017

Fire extinguishers come in water type (red) and powder type (blue) and it is important to know which one to use, in order to avoid making the fire spread. PHOTO | FILE

Fire extinguishers come in water type (red) and powder type (blue) and it is important to know which one to use, in order to avoid making the fire spread. PHOTO | FILE 


The aftermath of a fire is devastating. While most businesses have a regulated environment where fire alarms and equipment are mandatory, most homes are extremely hazardous places, with open flames common and combustible items everywhere.

However, with common sense and  a little planning, you can make your home  safe, and also know what to do in case of a fire.

The number one cause of fire in the home is from cooking, so:

  • Never leave a fire unattended, especially when frying, and never overheat cooking oil because it can spontaneously ignite and create a huge flame.

  • Always have a fire blanket on a wall in the kitchen. Also, have a small, powder types  fire extinguisher — preferably 2kg— in the kitchen and learn  how to use it. If possible, get a security provider to train you on home fire safety.
  • Never use a water extinguisher on a fire caused by fat; you will spread the fire and increase its intensity as the burning oil floats on the water.
  • Fit an automatic alarm system in your house. One zone can be used for fire detection and can keep your house safe even when you are away, or asleep. Always fit a smoke detector in the kitchen and in the bedrooms as a minimum precaution. It is preferable to fit network smoke detectors so that your alarm system is activated if a fire breaks out.
  • Always disconnect the gas cylinder after cooking and ensure the gas hose is secured tigh with hose clips to prevent leaks.
  • Avoid  keeping kerosene or petrol in the house, but if you must, store them in a sealed metal container, made for the purpose, not in a plastic jerrican!
  • The second cause of house fires is electrical:

  • Ensure that your electrical installations are up to standard. They should be inspected annually by a certified electrician, who then places a certificate in the fuse box.
  • Ensure that fuses are correctly rated. If circuit breakers are fitted and they trip, investigate the problem and avoid the temptation to fit a larger breaker without professional advice.
  • Avoid using adaptors but if you use them,  ensure that they are KEBS certified. Do not overload extension cables or adaptors with devices such as fan heaters.
  • Do not sleep with fan heaters on. They could overheat and catch fire. And do not place such devices on carpets. Some carpets burn and give off highly toxic gases.
  • Do not leave immersion heaters on for long periods, and ensure your water heater is  off if your water supply has been cut because the heater can overheat and catch fire. The insulation on these tanks produces a cyanide-type gas, which is lethal.
  • Make sure that any water-related electrical device like a pool pump or instant hot shower is protected by an RCCD (residual current circuit device),  a special circuit breaker that protects the user from electrocution. This is very important but often overlooked in this country.
  • In the event of a fire:

  • Leave the house immediately. Have a plan of action and practise it. Make sure every member of the family knows what to do. And just like at work, have an assembly point, perhaps at a neighbour’s house.
  • If you have small children, ensure  sure that  each child has an adult looking after them.
  • Only if it is safe should you try to fight a fire with the blanket and extinguishers. And make sure you have an escape route so that you do not get trapped.
  • If  you do get trapped, close the door and seal it with wet towels to keep out the smoke. Lie on the floor to find smoke-free air and cover your head with a wet towel to filter the air for breathing.
  • Make sure that your burglar proofing bars have a fire escape hatch. If you are on an upper floor, buy and fit an escape ladder which can be deployed from the window.
  • Communicate: Press your alarm panic button to summon assistance from your security provider. Call 999 for the Fire Brigade.
  • Evacuate immediately, never put your life at risk.


Mr Tongeren is the  deputy chairman of  SGA, a security services provider