Lumkani Fire Device Archives - SASDI Alliance

Umlilo! How a Mobilised Community Contained Fire Outbreak in Khayelitsha

By CORC, FEDUP, ISN No Comments

By Yolande Hendler (on behalf of CORC)

 “It was about ten to one. We were asleep and suddenly we just heard the ringing of the Lumkani fire detection device. Everyone was shouting ‘umlilo, umlilo!’ which means ‘fire, fire!’ When we woke up and went outside, it was easy to locate the fire because petrol makes high flames. We saw that the fire was burning an entire shack.” (Thamara Hela, Community Leader, UT Gardens)

ISN Community Leader Thamara Hela points to a structure that largely withstood the fire

ISN Community Leader Thamara Hela points to a structure that largely withstood the fire

The community of UT Gardens in Site B Khayelitsha partnered with the Informal Settlement Network (ISN) in early 2014 to install the Lumkani fire detection device in 250 of its 400 households as part of a broader approach to informal settlement upgrading. Since then, at least one fire broke out in the settlement due to an outdoor cooking fire. The incident occurred soon after the Lumkani device was installed in November 2014 and burnt only one shack as the community was alerted through the settlement-wide ringing of the Lumkani device. The fire on January 16, 2016 however, was different.

“It was very difficult to control the fire because of the wind. It spread quickly. Altogether 13 structures burnt down and 2 were damaged. In UT Gardens we have a total of 400 structures with 1402 people living in them. When I saw where the fire was, I called the fire brigade immediately. The owner and his girlfriend were still inside the burning structure. The fire brigade arrived quickly but it took long for them to get inside our settlement because it is so dense. We later found out from the owner of the structure that the fire was started on purpose because there was petrol poured around the structure by a woman in the community.” (Thamara Hela, Community Leader, UT Gardens)

Debris after the fire

Debris after the fire


Clearing debris the morning after the fire

Given the high density of structures the fire quickly spread to surrounding structures and burnt them down, including the home of ISN leader Lumka Khawuta.

“That night I slept at my friend’s place two structures away from my shack. My neighbour was screaming. She has asthma and knew that there was smoke. Before the device rang, she told us there was fire. When I checked, the fire had already reached my shack because it was very windy at that time. I tried calling my brother (we share a structure) and the fire station. There were 3 fire trucks. At first the water was not enough to combat the fire. Many neighbours woke up because the Lumkani device was ringing. As a team we tried to throw water on the flames. It was difficult to stop the fire from spreading because it was started by petrol and reached gas stoves in the other structures. It burnt down everything I have.” (Lumka Khawuta, UT Gardens)

Lumka Khawuta (far right) with installed Lumkani device in background

Lumka Khawuta (far right) with installed Lumkani device in background

The community drew on the City of Cape Town’s advanced disaster kit, which provides 10m2 panels to each affected household. Due to its active membership in ISN and the community’s investment in the cost of the Lumkani device, the community engaged the SA SDI Alliance (including ISN) for assistance. The Alliance agreed to support the affected households with a further 10m2 of material. This enabled the community to rebuild structures at 20m2. Thamara and Lumka, both ISN leaders, pushed for the new structures to be erected in a reblocked layout which would facilitate easier emergency vehicle access and wider pathways between structures. This would enable a more long-term approach to mitigating fires in the future.

Reblocked layout co-designed by community members and CORC

Reblocked layout co-designed by community members and CORC

Thamara Hela and Thembi Ngcuka (CORC) during reconstruction

Thamara Hela and Thembi Ngcuka (CORC) during reconstruction

View on to partially reblocked and reconstructed area with courtyard area in centre

View on to partially reblocked and reconstructed area with courtyard area in centre

The value of a community-wide response

“I am certain that if there was no wind that night less structures would have burnt. When you hear the ringing of the Lumkani device you always wake up because you know something is happening. First your device rings, then it spreads to the neighbours’ devices, then to the mother device. Then all devices in the community start ringing. We know that the devices cannot stop a fire. But if you are alerted you can at least do something about the fire.” (Thamara Hela, UT Gardens)

“The Lumkani device helped because it was making a lot of noise and woke everyone up. All my neighbours have Lumkani, so they got up to help other people.” (Lumka Khawuta, ISN Leader, UT Gardens)

“Seeing that the fire was a case of arson and involved petrol, the Lumkani system worked well; those in the line of the fire were able to wake up. 13 shacks were destroyed but we believe these would have been more without the device and perhaps there would have been lives lost.” (David Gluckman, Director of Lumkani)

“At first the community did not want to contribute to the device. But the reason ISN members believe in contributions is so that the community can help themselves. When we make contributions, we create order in our community. It makes people take responsibility” (Thamara Hela, UT Gardens)

In the reflections of Thamara, Lumka and David (Lumkani Director), the power of a community-wide response is evident. The value of a community-wide response is rooted in an approach where communities take the lead in their own development initiatives: from identifying the value of a technology to co-developing, co-financing co-implementing and co-assessing it.

SA SDI Alliance and Red Cross Society explore Fire Prevention Tools

By CORC, FEDUP No Comments

By Thandeka Tshabalala (on behalf of CORC).

September-April  marks  the Western Cape Fire season.  The eight months period has the highest record  of fire disasters due to a number of reasons but mainly negligence and lack of fire prevention  education. Throughout these times, informal settlement dwellers sit in panic and uncertainty of when a devastating fire may strike their settlement costing them their  belongings and in worst cases their lives. Urban fires are  amongst the highest disaster occurrences in informal settlements,and need to be addressed.

When  fires break out in informal settlement they spread fast and the community takes longer to be alerted . Evacuations are often dangerous and depending on  the density in these settlements  emergency responders often are unable to access homes in time. In July 2015  the South African SDI Alliance,  South African Red Cross Society (SACRS) and American Red Cross Society formed partnership with Lumkani to roll out early detection fire sensor devices targeting 1000 households in 4 informal settlements (UT, TT, TB section and WB) located in site B, Khayelitsha. The purpose of the project is to reduce fire risks by increasing community resilience against shack fires.  The introduction of early warning devices in  communities contributes to alerting  communities early  to avoid fire from spreading .  Another  benefit of the project is  formulating of fire response plans and capacitation of disaster response teams within the community.


A baseline study and GIS mapping exercise formed part of the first crucial steps of information gathering of the project. 30 community volunteers were trained in conducting community surveys and GIS mapping. The community surveys aimed at gathering first hand information on previous instances of fires.  With questions ranging from fuel used for cooking, heating,lighting to how the community responded to fires. This included identifying nearest fire hydrants and emergency exists in the informal settlement. Key informants and focus group interviews gave an in-depth understanding of the existing fire response mechanisms taken by community leaders and disaster relief organizations.

The GIS map marking access points in the settlements and hierarchy of routes classifies movement within the settlements starting  from vehicle access to footpaths forms part of the analysis. Once the community has verified the map it will then be used  as a tool to better understand the community access points that could be of use during emergencies. After analysis and feedback from community members the baseline study will be used to inform future plans for fire response and mitigation.

IMG-20151026-WA0007 (1)

Imbizos (i.e. community gatherings) were platforms used by  communities to participate and give feedback on the project. Councilors of ward 90 and 91 Luvuyo Hebe and Monde Mabandla together with emergency respondents such as the police and fire departments came in high numbers to support this initiative.During the launch of the project on the 26th August 2015 Detective Mandlana  showed appreciation  to the  South African Red cross and Informal Settlement Network (ISN) for the project  and urged the community to use the Lumkani devices.

 “Safety starts by individuals taking precautions all the time”.

Detective Mandlana from the Police department.

To strengthen the existing disaster response  mechanisms in the community, 40 community members were trained in first aid (I, II &III) and fire fighting. The community response team is equipped to assess possible disasters and also be prepared to respond to any disaster occurring in their community.The community response teams have a lifetime commitment to the community because they can help improve the safety of their communities.

“ In the middle of a disaster, these are the people who will be able to say they are here to help, give critical support and assist victims before the arrival of emergency services.”


This project forms part of a long-term objective  which includes decreasing urban fires and strengthening the impact of the Lumkani early warning device. The device acts as an early warning system in the community, decreasing the time taken by the community to be alerted in cases of fires, with addition of the response team the community is well positioned to deal with shack fires while waiting for emergency services. This intervention was informed by the profiling and enumeration data captured by the communities to understand the community priority needs.  The long term upgrading strategy would be the addition of planned preventative measures such as opening up streets and open spaces for emergency evacuations and access of emergency services.