11 February 2019

South Africa has seen an increase in the severity of fires over the past few years, with the recent devastating fire in Betty’s Bay showing just how quickly a fire can spread out of control.

Jannet Ferguson, General Manager: Personal Lines and Underwriting Management Agency at Absa Insurance, says that while the number of actual fires hasn’t increased, the number of catastrophic fires resulting in widespread personal property loss, has.

“Who would have thought that Knysna would have burnt the extent that it did? Then there are also the examples of St Francis Bay, and the recent disaster in Betty’s Bay where numerous homes were lost,” Ferguson said.

“In winter we see an increase in the number of building fires, in relation to people trying to keep warm. People should be cautious about not bumping over candles or allowing heaters to overheat. These type of claims reduce during the summer months.”

Ferguson advises homeowners to follow these tips to ensure they are adequately insured against fire damage:

  • Make sure your home is ensured for replacement value, not market value. The market value could be less than the rebuild cost.
  • Check to see if your rent for another property will be covered if your house burns down?
  • If you rent the property out, find out if your insurance covers lost rental income?
  • Ask if the cost of the fire brigade has been covered?
  • Make sure all professional fees are covered – such as the cost of the architect and engineer
  • Confirm whether your expensive fixtures and fittings have been taken into account in calculating the cost of your home?
  • Many people take out the minimum contents cover but you should get the inventory list from your insurer, and write down a value to get an idea of what you should be insured for. Do this exercise every two years.
  • Ensure that any expensive art has been insured.
  • Review your policy regularly

“Make sure that your electricity compliance certificate is current, most fires relate to electricity issues. Blow candles out when you go to bed, or leave the house, and place protective screens around fireplaces. Should load shedding or electrical disruption be experienced, ensure all electrical appliances such as irons, heaters, hair dryers or tongs are switched off to avoid the possibility of causing a fire once the power returns.”

When it comes to business premises and fires, Ferguson said buildings machinery should be professionally valued, and that business interruption cover be in place. “Most importantly, talk to a broker to ensure you have ticked all your boxes.”