As we drive along the roads of South Africa we find several warnings of grass cutting taking place. This is an early warning of the risks of veld fires as we head towards the colder winter months. On the Arrive Alive website we have made available information to road users on safe driving near veld and forest fires.
Awareness of safety from hazards presented by nature can however emanate from more than the usual road safety authorities and weather stations. Across the globe we find many road users challenged by the threats of flooding, hail, snow, tornadoes, fire etc.
Insurance companies have intensified efforts to take a pro-active approach and provide prior warnings to clients on what to do to avoid these risks and protect their belongings. In South Africa we have witnessed the devastating damage caused by hail storms in the East Rand.
Several insurers are now teaming up with weather authorities and providing their clients with warnings prior to approaching hail storms recommending that they park their vehicles safely away from harm.
We could ask whether we are as pro-active when it comes to the threats from veld and forest fires – and also the threats of driving through the smoke from these fires?
We could learn from our international colleagues who have much greater exposure to veld and forest fires.
Youi Insurance in Australia has made available an informative video of how they supported clients through the very trying times after veld and forest fires.
As more and more road users with access to social media and mediums such as Facebook and Twitter we could expect to find car insurers also working closely with road and weather authorities to offer safety messages to their clients. Some of the toll concessionaires in South Africa provide these updates to warn on flooding, road closures, smoke, veld fires etc. and car insurers may well consider making these available to clients as well!
Find below some of the recommendations from the Arrive Alive website for safe driving near veld and forest fires:
- 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.