Heated situation: Here's what to do to survive being caught in a fire

Uncontrolled fires spread quickly, especially on very hot and dry days. If you're trapped in your home, car, or outside during a forest fire, you need to know how you can protect yourself.

A Pacific Gas and Electric firefighter walks down a road as flames approach in Fairfield, California during the LNU Lightning Complex fire on 19 August 2020.  Picture: AFP

JOHANNESBURG – News headlines across the country have been dominated by stories about fires - from the Charlotte Maxeke Hospital fire, the still-raging fire on Cape Town's Table Mountain and the deadly Gazine informal settlement fire in Johannesburg.

About 700 people were evacuated from the hospital on Friday after an all-night fire. No deaths or injuries were reported.

Last week, hundreds of families were left salvaging their belongings following a fire that killed at least nine people in Gazine informal settlement near the Kwa Mai Mai market in the Joburg CBD.

Four firefighters were injured while battling a blaze on the slopes of Table Mountain on Monday.

The fire gutted several structures, including part of the Rhodes Memorial restaurant and a library at the University of Cape Town (UCT) on Sunday.

As the winter season approaches, informal settlements fall victim to fires because of candles and heating devices.

According to the Safer Candles Project of Childsafe Cape Town, “there are two main causes of shack fires in South Africa - fallen candles and paraffin-related burns”.

So, what do you do if you or a loved one is caught in that situation?

As Cape Town residents watch the fire on Table Mountain rages on and wreak havoc on key landmarks, Eyewitness News has put together a survival guide:


Uncontrolled fires spread extremely quickly, especially on very hot and dry days. They can happen anytime, anywhere. If you do become trapped in your home, car, or outside during a forest fire, you need to know how you can protect yourself.

• If you’re outside, whether you are hiking or elsewhere, and realise you may be in trouble, cover your nose and mouth with a wet cloth or piece of clothing.
• If you don’t know which way to run and can’t tell where the fire is coming from, find an area without any bush or vegetation or plants.
• If you know of a body of water nearby, try get to it so that you can put it between you and the fire.
• Alternatively find a ditch or a low spot on the ground; keep low by lying face down and covering your body with things like wet clothing, soil, or mud.
• Call for emergency services and inform your friends and family where you are by sending them a pin location.


• GET OUT, STAY OUT and call emergency services.
• Shout "FIRE!" several times and go outside right away. If you live in a building with elevators, use the stairs. Leave all your things where they are and save yourself.
• If closed doors or handles are warm or smoke blocks your primary escape route, use your second way out. Never open doors that are warm to the touch.
• After the evacuation, meet the rest of the family members in a pre-determined location and remain there until everyone in the household is rescued.


• Fill all sinks and bathtubs with cold water.
• Keep your doors and windows closed, but don’t lock them.
• Move furniture and curtains away from the windows and doors.
• If you can manage to do it safely, use a hose or sprinkler (or turn on your irrigation system) to wet the walls of your house and the outside grounds.
• Move as far away from it as possible, or lock the flammable items in a separate room.


• Drive to a place as far away from foliage as possible.
• Find an open clearing to park in.
• Close your windows and air vents because smoke can get in.
• Lie on the floor of your car, cover yourself with clothing or a blanket and phone for help.
• Let your loved ones know where you are by sending a pin location.

In life-threatening situations, it’s important to protect yourself. The safety of possessions needs to take second preference after life.

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