Weekly Comegetchu Tip 56

Bushfire Prone Area Safety Awareness –

As Botswana is a semi-arid climate area, the possibility of bush fires is imminent due to the harsh heat and dry conditions. In the event of such an occurrence, the ability to ensure your safety could prove to be a challenge. Below are a few tips to consider should you find yourself driving near a bush fire:

  • Check for weather condition reports within your area and listen to the local radio stations and television for news on any fires in the area.
  • Keep a map of your regular routes and frequent travel destinations in your vehicle so that you know at least two ways of getting anywhere as an exit strategy. If an emergency happens and your primary route of travel is closed, you’ll already know another way to get to where you’re going, or you’ll only need to pull over and read the map to figure it out.
  • There will be limited visibility due to smoke and there may be large volumes of slow-moving traffic – drastically reduce speed, drive carefully and be on full alert.
  • If visibility becomes very poor, don’t attempt to drive through thick smoke or flame – many accidents occur when drivers attempt this, only to find that they run off the road, collide with stationary objects such as other vehicles, or are involved in head-on collisions with other vehicles attempting to drive through from the opposite direction.
  • Put your headlights and hazards on so that you are as visible as possible to other vehicles, particularly fire tankers and emergency workers.
  • If you find yourself caught in bush fire while in your car, your vehicle will provide adequate form of protection however your main priority will have to be to get out of the fire all costs. Look for a clear area, preferably off the road (areas clear of grass or bush will not sustain fires of high intensity).
  • Do not leave the vehicle – people have lost their lives by exiting the vehicle, only to be trapped leaving n option to return to their vehicles. Your vehicle will help to protect you from the radiant heat, which is the main hazard. Close all windows and vents. Switch the ignition off, it is unlikely that the fuel tank will explode from the heat of a passing veld or grass fire.
  • Stay in the vehicle, as low down as you can get, until the fire has passed, then exit and inspect the vehicle for damage before proceeding.
  • If you are in the veld, away from your vehicle, and you see that a fire has started, move from the fire immediately.
  • Never ignore the fire, even if it seems far away – it can quickly become large and engulf you! The most dangerous situation to be in is when a veld fire is moving up a steep slope, and you are above it with bush and grass between you and the fire. It is estimated that every 10% increase in the gradient of the slope doubles the rate of fire spread.
  • If you feel threatened and you don’t think you can outrun the fire, or if you are surrounded, then find a ‘Safe Zone’.
  • A ‘Safe Zone’ can be an area that has already been burnt, or is completely clear of any fuel that can burn, such as a wide road or an old homestead. The clear area should be as large as possible.
  • Do not panic and run at the last minute!
  • Remember that what will hurt you are the heat that the fire makes, and the lack of oxygen to breathe.
  • Lie down on the ground, cover your head, breathe deeply before the smoke gets too close, and hold your breath when the fire passes over and around you. If you have blankets or extra clothing with you, try to cover any exposed parts of your body.