“The public needs to be aware of the potential fire risks posed by electricity utility Eskom’s decision to implement scheduled load shedding across South Africa,” warns ASP Fire CEO, Michael van Niekerk.

He urges all homeowners to put basic fire-risk mitigation measures in place. In a recent incident, a house in Johannesburg was reduced to embers due to a hair dryer being left unattended on a bed after load shedding was implemented. Van Niekerk points out that residents also need to be aware of issues such as leaving heaters unattended near curtains or other combustible materials, for example.

He advises that the first thing homeowners need to do in the event of load shedding is to ensure that all power sources are switched off. “This might sound like common sense, but it is very easy to forget to do so when the power goes off unexpectedly, and your home is plunged suddenly into darkness.”

Another risk factor is using candles as a light source, which need to be extinguished immediately once the power supply is restored. “Homeowners need to ensure that candles are positioned correctly, in proper containers, so that, in the event that they might fall over, they do not pose a fire risk,” he says.

It is best for all property owners to invest in suitable fire-extinguishing equipment and for everyone concerned to know how to operate it effectively in the event of any fire incident.

“Fire-prevention legislation tends to focus on commercial and retail spaces rather than residential homes, where there is no regulatory requirement to have fire extinguishers, hose reels, or even water sprinklers installed, which is also prohibitive from a cost point of view,” he says.

Homeowners (and businesses alike) are increasingly opting for back-up gensets to supplement grid power in the event of load shedding, but these pose their own safety and risk issues. Here it is essential to ensure that such gensets are serviced and maintained regularly, so that they can be switched on immediately in the event of load shedding.

“If the power goes out and you switch your genset on, only to find that it is out of fuel, for example, the last thing you want to do is to attempt to refill that genset while it is running, or while the engine or exhaust is hot, as this poses a serious risk of causing a fire,” Van Niekerk warns.

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