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How to protect an estate from going up in smoke



Runaway fires wreak havoc and can have crippling financial ramifications. Fire damage to residential and commercial estates is proving an increased risk for property owners and insurers alike. As such, Santam Specialist Real Estate (SRE) has seen a doubling of fire and fire-related claims over the past three years. The lesson is for bodies corporate and trustees to ensure their estates’ insurance is adequate against fire risk.

Head of Santam Real Estate Karl Bishops says, “Flames, smoke and the water used to extinguish a fire can severely harm buildings and residents’ belongings. If an estate fails to have insurance or is underinsured, it may not be able to rebuild or repair damages, which could place the onus on the owners to pay for repairs. This could lead to arguments and lawsuits down-the-line, especially as the Sectional Titles Act requires bodies corporate to insure buildings in a scheme to the right replacement value, against fire and other risks. Household contents remains the responsibility of the resident.”

He says that usually an insurance policy would have special and/or general conditions like a ‘prevention of loss clause’ stipulating the precautions body corporate must take to prevent losses or accidents. This is often very detailed in terms of fire protection, outlining conditions like the fact that all firefighting equipment must be installed, serviced and maintained in line with the appropriate regulations and bylaws.

Aside from adequate insurance, here are Bishop’s top ways for bodies corporate and trustees to properly manage fire risk for estates, starting by putting a comprehensive fire safety management policy in place which includes the following:

1. Fire extinguishers: Make sure that there are fire extinguishers in good working order, located close to any places where fires might be expected to break out. A conduct rule could oblige owners and occupiers to keep fire extinguishers in kitchens and next to any open fireplaces, such as barbecues / braais, in sections or in exclusive use areas. Regular maintenance of the equipment in line with the manufacturer’s requirements cannot be overemphasised.

2. Electrical and Gas Certificates of Compliance (C.O.C): Old and unsafe electrical wiring within sections and in exclusive use areas is a concern. Electrical wiring within the areas that residents own and control should be kept in excellent condition so as to reduce the risk of fire. Prevention is much better than cure, so it’s imperative that electrical installations are never compromised. 

The use of gas for both cooking and heating has become more common. It is vital that these gas installations and connections are regularly serviced. Gas receptacles should also be stored and secured in accordance with regulations.

The provision of a valid electrical and/or gas Certificate of Compliance provides peace of mind by confirming the installation is legally compliant and safe to use.

3. Refuse removal: regularly remove refuse to avoid unnecessary build up, particularly in areas designated for refuse receptacles. This prevents the build-up of flammable materials which could aid in the spread of a fire.

4. Non-standard roof structures: roofs and other structures made from non-standard materials, such as thatch, should be regularly treated with fire retardants along with ensuring that the correct and appropriate number of lightning conductors (masts) are installed.

Here are some general housekeeping tips:

  • Avoid the build-up of materials that can act as fuel for a fire. For example, recycling stations with cardboard boxes, papers and plastic containers should be kept away from dwellings and emptied on a regular basis.
  • Smoke detector alarms installed within sections are good additions and can serve as early warning systems.
  • Know where the fire hydrants are located within and outside the property to assist the local fire team with speedy connection of the water hoses.
  • Have a plan as to how the local fire team’s vehicle will access the property in the case of a fire. Entrances/guard houses at residential estates are generally too small for the local fire team’s vehicle to fit through. 
  • Choose evacuation points and routes carefully:
            > Make sure there are multiple routes
            > Assembly points should be clearly communicated to all owners/occupants

“As a major fire event can have far-reaching implications for estates, bodies corporate and trustees are urged to identify what fire-prevention, early detection systems and firefighting capabilities are in place. Otherwise, there’s the real and dangerous risk of their estates going up in smoke”, concluded Bishop.