About two shacks burn daily in the informal settlements. And it only takes three to five minutes for a shack to burn to the ground, says Chief of Emergency Management at the Windhoek Municipality, Raymond Kapia.
Kapia explained that in formal areas it’s unlikely that a house would burn, adding that the chances of fire in informal settlements are much higher compared to formal areas. He said it’s because formal areas are regulated while informal areas are not.
Kapia said that in formal areas they have fire safety inspectors and their strategy is prevention in the sense that they raise awareness and train the public. They also provide the public with information on how to reduce fire incidences.
New Era spoke to Kapia about the number of fire outbreaks in informal settlements compared to formal areas.
Last week New Era reported on the proliferation of shacks overwhelming the city. It was reported that the informal settlements in Windhoek are moving further away from the city and expanding into the mountains, with over 100 000 people living in informal settlements in Windhoek.
City officials say occupants in the informal areas erect shacks at night and each morning there are new shacks where the previous day there were none.
Kapia emphasised the difference between the two areas: a formal area has all requirements such as proper road infrastructure, water reticulation ( fire hydrants) amongst others, while informal settlements have none.
He said some shacks are inaccessible, especially those in the mountains, and there are riverbeds and no roads lead to the areas.
“There are no street maps for us to reach there quickly. There are no fire hydrants for us to get water immediately from the water points and the fact that the houses are built close to one another – if one shack burns it spreads to another. These houses were built without any approved plans. Now that makes emergency response very difficult.”
He further said that when a resident from an informal settlement calls the fire control room, they are required to provide the location where the fire incident is, and give the street name or house number.
“Now these people who are responding do not know where to go and response time is compromised. They might take 20 minutes to arrive at the scene because they need to get guidance from the community or look at signs such as smoke – but smoke travels, it can never give you proper direction.”
He noted that their standard response time from any of the four fire stations is five to 10 minutes. “If you call and put down the phone, from then you can start counting. In five to ten minutes we should be there and reach the furthest area at least by ten minutes.”
Asked about criticism that they never respond on time especially in the informal areas, Kapia explained that a challenge in the informal settlements is that members of the community try to extinguish the fire on their own, but when they realize that the fire has escalated and they are unable to extinguish it – only then, after 10 minutes of struggling, do they call emergency services.
“Now a fire that has burnt for 10 minutes has become an inferno, so most of the time when we are notified we do respond within that time but the community think that we are late because they were there when the fire started, but no one thinks that the fire brigade was notified late,” he said.
Kapia stated that they have an outreach programme with colleagues from disaster risk management sensitizing the public on fire prevention strategies.