Lisette Lombard, communications manager at Old Mutual Insure, was lucky to escape with her life while on a trail run on Table Mountain, when she got caught in the wildfire that broke out near Rhodes Memorial on Sunday morning.
The out-of-control fire devastated Rhodes Memorial, parts of Table Mountain and the University of Cape Town – and it continues to rage on after being redirected to above the City Bowl by a fierce south-easter early this morning.
"When I looked down five minutes later, I noticed it was spreading very quickly. I started running down because I was afraid for my car, and when I got close to the parking, I heard two explosions. I then saw the flames in front of me, that’s when I knew I was in trouble.
"I had no idea what to do or where to run. I didn’t have time to look up an emergency number, so I sent out a live video on Twitter to ask for help, knowing that I would get a response quickly.
“I luckily got out of the forest and when I got near the road, I was thankful to find policemen and firefighters who confirmed that my car had been destroyed. The severity of the life-threatening situation still didn’t sink in, and I asked if I could go see it.
’’When they told me that it is out of control, that is when the penny dropped on how dangerous the situation was, and how lucky I had got.’’
On Sunday, social media was abuzz with hikers and others saying they had no idea how to get to safety, asking for advice on what to do.
“I wish more people knew what to do if they were caught in a fire. The reality is that I was lucky to get to safety quickly, but I completely underestimated how quickly the fire was spreading, and it was almost too late when I realised how deeply in trouble I was,” says Lombard, who is still trying to come to terms with the loss of her vehicle.
’’Uncontrolled fires spread extremely quickly, especially on very hot and dry days. They can happen at any time, anywhere. If you do become trapped in your home, car or outside during a forest fire, you need to know how you can protect yourself,’’ says Lombard
She offered some tips on how to keep yourself and your family safe if you are caught in a wildfire:
– If you are outside, whether you are hiking or elsewhere, and realise you may be in trouble, cover your nose and mouth with a wet cloth or piece of clothing.
– If you don’t know which way to run and can’t tell where the fire is coming from, find an area without any bush or vegetation or plants.
– If you know of a body of water nearby, try get to it so that you can put it between you and the fire. Alternatively, find a ditch or a low spot on the ground; keep low by lying face down and covering your body with things like wet clothing, soil, or mud.
– Call for emergency services and inform your friends and family where you are by sending them a PIN location.
– Consider the impact of the wind in the area that you are in.
What you should do if you find yourself stuck at home in the midst of a fire:
- Stay calm and stick together.
- Fill all sinks and bathtubs with cold water. Keep your doors and windows closed, but don’t lock them. Move furniture and curtains away from the windows and doors.
- If you can manage to do it safely, use a hose or sprinkler (or turn on your irrigation system) to wet the walls of your house and the outside grounds.
- Be mindful of dry flammable plant material around wooden structures and under wooden decks. Also be aware of any flammable items on your property, such as gas. Move as far away from it as possible or lock the flammable items in a separate room.
If you are trapped in your car in the middle of a fire, then heed the following advice:
- Drive to a place as far away from foliage as possible.
- Find an open clearing to park in.
- Close your windows and air vents. Smoke can get in and this is often the first thing that harms or kills people, rather than open flames.
- Lie on the floor of your car, cover yourself with clothing or a blanket and phone for help.
- Let your loved ones know where you are by sending a PIN location.
Commenting on Lombard’s ordeal, Old Mutual Insure spokesperson Christelle Colman says: “It is disturbing as she has to deal with the emotional trauma of having narrowly escaped a raging fire, as well the realisation that she has lost her car.’’
However, in life-threatening situations, she says, it is first and foremost important to protect oneself, and that the safety of possessions need to take second preference after life.
“Before going on a hike or leaving your car, check with your insurer if they have an emergency assist service. Some insurers offer 24/7 emergency assistance that allows you to call for help at the click of a button through an app, rather than needing to fiddle and look for a telephone number or contact on your phone,” says Colman.
She says you simply cannot afford to waste time in a life-threatening situation and should make sure that this service includes all-day, everyday emergency services on the road or at home, including medical emergencies.
“Wildfires spread quickly, so it’s important to know how to protect yourself and your family. And remember to protect your home and car to by making sure your insurance is up to date,” says Colman.