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Norwood blaze raises fire awareness



A home in Norwood was engulfed in flames and almost completely destroyed on Monday evening. Though it’s not known how the fire started, the ZAKA fire containment unit (FCU) ensured that it didn’t spread to other houses.

An eyewitness in the area, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the homeowners were away at the time of the fire. “I smelled smoke, and the neighbourhood WhatsApp group said the house was alight. By the time we got there, we could see huge flames. It all happened so fast, and the inside of the house was totally gutted. If the homeowners had been there, lives may have been lost.”

Photographs of the scene show massive flames stretching into the night sky, with nearby trees and homes that could easily have caught alight.

Said ZAKA’s Kayla Ginsberg, “The fire was eventually extinguished by the fire department, which arrived quickly and managed it superbly.”

ZAKA’s head of operations and head of the FCU, Josh Green, said that this incident showed the need for fire safety and awareness in every home. “We never think it will happen to us, but if it does, it’s too late to get a fire extinguisher or install a smoke alarm.”

Green said a fire can rapidly destroy an entire home. “If the fire is in the ceiling, then the house will be burning before you know about it – unless you have a smoke alarm. In addition, a lot of older houses’ ceilings are made of wood. The ceiling can crash into the house and the fire itself can become combustible. That means that the temperature becomes so hot, the smoke and chemicals set everything alight.”

In an incident like this house fire, the unit would be called to the scene by the homeowner, people in the area, or other community organisations. In this case, the joint ZAKA and Community Security Organisation (CSO) control room was notified.

“We dispatch within minutes with our trailer, and determine where the closest fire hydrant is, which we connect to our hoses. We run things until the fire department arrives. That means evacuating the residents and neighbours, spraying down nearby houses, securing the area, and containing the fire as much as we can.

“We aren’t firefighters, we only contain the fire, or put out small fires if we can. We leave the big firefighting to the fire department. Two weeks ago, we ran hoses from a fire hydrant for an entire city block. This greatly assisted the fire department when it arrived, as it had limited water and didn’t need to waste time finding the hydrant. It plugged in, and had unlimited water to fight the fire.”

Green said the unit had responded to numerous incidents since it was formed in August this year, and that people didn’t realise how common fire could be. The unit will be running more awareness events for the community, and hopes also to do programmes in schools when COVID-19 restrictions ease.

“Fire is preventable,” Green said. “Smoke alarms save lives. Every home should also have a fire extinguisher, fire drills, and an exit plan in place. It’s important to store household items carefully, like not putting the lawnmower next to the gas canisters. It’s also vital to switch off devices during loadshedding. We hope you never need us, but if you do, we’re here 24/7.”

In cases of active fire, contact the ZAKA FCU control room on 086 18 000 18. Email for any assistance with fire-safety equipment or fire-safety plans for your family.

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