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DIEPSLOOT extension one was the target of the emergency management services outreach programme yesterday, when officials went door to door teaching people how to avoid fire.

Emergency management services (EMS) staff sprinkled across the area, showing, for example, how candles can be used safely. The trick is to use a glass jar: officials carried normal glass mayonnaise jars, each filled with some sand and a candle. In the demonstration, they lit the candle and while it was burning, kicked the jar over. The sand extinguished the flames quickly and easily.

A pamphlet describing step by step how to use candles safely was left at each household. The pamphlets also listed emergency phone numbers.

Maria Mbonzela, a 32-year-old mother of four, was one of those who was visited. The outreach came after she had watched helplessly as her neighbours lost everything in a fire that destroyed eight shacks, leaving about 20 people homeless. That happened on the weekend of 2 June; she is determined to help stop it from happening again.

Mbonzela thanked the officials, saying she would make sure to share everything she had learnt with her neighbours. If a fire broke out in one shack, they would all be involved – even those who had been cautious. She added that the EMS visit would help her avoid potential fires.

Also, she had not known what number to call in case of emergency, but by the time the official left her house, she knew the number by heart.

Fire death
Opposite Mbonzela’s shack is an open space filled with burnt metal, wire and damaged household equipment. Several fires have broken out in Diepsloot already this winter. In just two weeks, three people died in three separate incidents. The latest was on 10 June; one person died.

Robert Mulaudzi, the EMS’s media liaison officer, was also hands on in sharing his knowledge. “We are trying to emphasize more on your winter safety, where we are concentrating on heat energy sources such as heaters, braziers, paraffin stoves and candles,” he said.

The focus was on how to use candles safely since the majority of households in the area did not have electricity. Diepsloot’s informal settlement was the first of several areas in danger of fires that the City will visit. “We are going to be visiting different areas across the city,” said Mulaudzi.

Mangolongolo or Denver would be visited today. On 2 June, 12 shacks in the area were destroyed in a fire, and 20 people were left homeless. Setswetla informal settlement in Alexandra would be visited on 13 June, although there had been no fire in the area.

On 14 and 15 June, attention would be directed to Kliptown in Soweto. Three fires had been reported already, with the latest over the weekend of 9 June. Five shacks were destroyed but no-one was injured.

Mulaudzi said the campaign was in response to the many fires in informal settlements. Last week, the EMS attended to 10 fires that claimed four lives. “Four of those fires occurred in formal houses and six occurred in informal settlements.”

The fires were mostly caused by heat energy sources used for heating and lighting. Fires could be prevented if people knew how to handle those appliances and how to handle an emergency.

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