During winter in South Africa we experience increased risks of veld fires. Dry grass next to the roads is easily set alight by careless drivers throwing cigarettes from their vehicles. This is not only a threat to the environment and animal life, but also provides unique dangers to road users travelling in the area!
The Arrive Alive Road Safety website partner Trac N4 shared photos of a fire at Schoemanskloof on the 30th of June 2010. Trac N4 suggested that we provide exposure to the dangers of veld and forest fires and urge all road users to be alert when driving near fire!
Safe Driving Recommendations
- When planning a trip during the fire season, check to see what the weather conditions will be like in the area and listen to local radio stations for news on any fires in the area.
- Keep maps of your route and frequent travel destinations in your car, and know at least two ways of getting anywhere. If an emergency happens and your primary route of travel is closed, you’ll already know another way to get 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 obstacles 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 / emergency workers.
- If you are caught in your vehicle during a veld fire, your vehicle will provide a good degree of protection. 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 on foot in the open. Your vehicle will help to protect you from 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 front 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.
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