Fighting fire at Overcome Heights

A team sprays a layer of tekrok on shacks to help prevent fires at Overcome Heights informal settlement.

Overcome Heights informal settlement has been devastated by numerous fires over the years – the most recent, two fires in the same week left 150 people destitute last month, said community worker Karen Mentor.

The fires spread quickly and easily because of the close proximity of the shacks and are often worsened by strong winds in the area. So far this year there have been eight fires and last year 20 fires were recorded.

Last week the City of Cape Town, in partnership with company Mandoval Vermiculite, launched a fire mitigation pilot project at the informal settlement to prevent the spread of fires by coating between 300 and 400 shacks with fire resistant tekrok – an asbestos free and non-toxic material that is used at petrochemical facilities.

Mandoval Vermiculite spokesperson Jason Coleman said the coating had gone through rigorous tests that will help save lives as well as property.

“When there’s a fire on the inside or outside of the structure it will be contained because the material can contain a fire for between two and three hours, stops the steel from overheating and melting so the stability and integrity of the structure remains in place and stops it from spreading to any other structures,” he said.

Mr Coleman said fires at informal settlements across the country motivated the company to roll out the project at Overcome Heights at a cost between R4000 and R 6000 a structure.

The company will provide funding for the tekrok, machinery and training and the Disaster Risk Management Centre have funded the employment of 11 Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP) employees from Overcome Heights over the next six months.

Ms Mentor said the community are thankful that the initiative was launched in Overcome Heights: “We are extremly happy that we were chosen because so many people have had to rebuild their lives after losing everything. We thank those who chose us and thank the City and the company for helping us in this way.”

Nomsa Pico, Jennypher van Wyk, Levona Powell from informal settlement management with community worker Karen Mentoor and Mayco member for safety and security, JP Smith.

The safety and security directorate said the aim of the project is to help limit the spread of fire when it occurs, minimising the risk of injury, death and damage to infrastructure, property and the environment and will greatly assist firefighters when dealing with fires at informal settlements.

Mayco member for safety and security, JP Smith confirmed that Overcome Heights was selected for the pilot-project because it has a high potential for large scale fire incidents

“Should this pilot project prove to be successful in preventing the spread of fires, it is hoped that funding could be secured by Informal Settlements Management in the Human Settlements Department, either through public or private channels, to fund similar projects in other parts of the city.”

Mr Coleman implored corporates to get involved by donating raw material or to provide sponsorship to help make informal settlements across the country more fire resistant.