A solution to deadly fires in SA homes

A solution to deadly fires in SA homes

Over nine people die every day in South Africa in home fires that could have been prevented. Over
120 000 structures have been destroyed by fire. Thousands of people are admitted to burns units with serious injuries every year.

A fire can start and can spread alarmingly quickly and easily.

Many of the objects and substances we have lying around the home turn SA dwellings into time bombs.

Flammable things in many homes

Many of these are ordinary household items, and include aerosol cans, such as hairspray cans, drain cleaners, cooking oil and fatty foods, nail polish and nail polish remover, shoe polish, any medication that contains alcohol, certain stain removers, bleach and fabric softeners, petrol in cans, paraffin, thinners, paint and antifreeze, among others.

Many people living in informal settlements have limited or no access to electricity and the use of paraffin stoves and heaters is common. Many shack fires are caused by paraffin stoves or candles that are knocked over. Because of the proximity of these structures to one another, fires spread quickly, and since the year 2000 over 120 000 structures have been destroyed in this way.

These accidents are a major cause of runaway fires in informal settlements and the City of Cape Town advises on their website that people who use paraffin appliances should keep a bucket of sand at hand, as water will not extinguish these flames.

They also warn parents to keep matches and lighters away from children, not to overload electrical circuits, keeping stored paraffin out of reach, never to fall asleep with candles still burning, and keeping the yard free of debris.

According to the Household Energy Safety Association, 3.2% of the South African population suffer burns annually. Majority of these victims come from a poor background, mostly living in informal settlements.

Roughly 1 300 children, mostly under the age of three, die each year from burn injuries. Hot liquid burn injuries are prominent in these children, while flame-burn injuries are more prevelant in adolescents. Electricity contributes to 47% of burn injuries in children, while 19% of burns are caused by paraffin.

Ajuga: the solution?

The Cipla Foundation has been one of the driving forces behind a project that has developed, tested and perfected a fire-resistant modular structure that could put an end to the problem of shack fires in SA.

“Finally there is a structure that won’t burn down when a fire breaks out within the unit, as it traps the fire and suffocates it, thus preventing the fire spreading into other dwellings – it in effect acts as a fire break,” says David Grier, the Managing Trustee of the Cipla Foundation.

Ajuga structures are being introduced into informal settlements as crèches and community care centres to ensure the most vulnerable are protected in case of a fire outbreak.

The foundation is currently looking for funding partners to help provide a solution to the national problem of shack fires, according to Grier.

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