Be responsible with fire to protect our heritage, cautions Maropeng

  • December 01, 2012

Top tips to deal with, and prevent, destructive fires

Some of the earliest signs of controlled fire usage where discovered by Dr. CK Brain in the early 1980’s in the Swartkrans Cave within Gauteng’s world-renowned Cradle of Humankind and while there is no doubt that fire vastly improved people’s lives, uncontrolled, it is a destructive force that has wiped out large tracts of indigenous flora and fauna and other significant heritage sites over the years.

“About 90% of destructive veld, or wild, fires are started by humans, often through carelessness. The summer holidays see more people spending time outdoors, braaiing and smoking, with children left on their own with access to matches or lighters. We’d like to urge those visiting the Cradle of Humankind and surrounds to be more careful of their surroundings and take precautions with regard to fire safety,” says Tony Rubin, Managing Director of Maropeng Visitors’ Centre – the official gateway to the Cradle of Humankind. 

He adds that conservancy owners and other operators of tourist attractions in the area should have a strong fire strategy in place, which consists of three key components: awareness – including educating visitors on preventing veld fires; prevention and control – including educating staff on procedures and tips and preparedness – creating and maintaining adequate firebreaks and with easy access to emergency response.

So what can holidaymakers do to prevent fires?

Rubin provides the following top tips in the event that a fire should break out:

• If you are driving past a veld fire and you cannot see –don’t drive!
• Try to move away from the vicinity of veld and forest fires
• Respect and obey the guidance of fire, emergency and traffic officials
• If you are in the veld, away from your vehicle, and you see that a fire has started, move from the fire immediately.
• Never ignore the fire, even if it seems far away - it can quickly become large and engulf you! The most dangerous situation to be in is when a veld fire is moving up a steep slope, and you are above it with bush and grass between you and the fire. It is estimated that every 10% increase in the gradient of the slope doubles the rate of fire spread.
• If you feel threatened and you don’t think you can outrun the fire, or if you are surrounded, then find a ‘Safe Zone’.
• A ‘Safe Zone’ can be an area that has already been burnt, or is completely clear of any fuel that can burn, such as a wide road or an old homestead. The clear area should be as large as possible.
• Remember that what will hurt you is the heat that the fire makes, and the lack of oxygen to breathe so lie down on the ground, cover your head, breathe deeply before the smoke gets too close, and hold your breath when the fire passes over and around you. If you have blankets or extra clothing with you, try to cover any exposed parts of your body.

Rubin emphasizes that prevention is always the best policy and provides the following precautionary measures holidaymakers can take:

• Never leave candles or fires unattended
• Safely put out cigarettes and don’t throw the butts into dry, grassy areas
• Keep matches and lighters safely out of the reach of children


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