Finding solutions to fire dangers in energy poor households


lumkani---textThe Lumkani fire-detector will be able to alert people when a fire starts so it can be controlled sooner. (Image: Lumkani)

Shack fires, deaths from smoke inhalation and darkness in informal settlements could be problems of the past once four new inventions become staples of everyday life.

Flammable corrugated iron is the most common building material in informal settlements. It’s not a strong building material, unable to withstand wind and rain or the heat and pressure of a fire. It is cheap and widely available but compounds the damage during flooding and fires.

Now four start-ups have researched the problem and found solutions that should, they hope, cut down the number of fatalities caused by out of control fires. The Lumkani fire-detector, the Nuru PowerCycle, 5 Star Stoves and Shacurity solar powered lights and fire alarm kits, are the socially responsible solutions that will add value.


Residents of Khayelitsha Township woke on New Year’s Day 2013 to the smell of smoke and the heat of fire raging through the settlement. When the fire was finally contained there were several people dead and hundreds of homes destroyed.

University student David Gluckman and the members of his team watched the news coverage and decided there had to be a way to prevent this tragedy from happening again. This thought led to the development of the Lumkani fire-detector

The raging fire was not something new and there had to be something done to stop all this from happening again. “The trick with this kind of disaster is early warning. The earlier people know, the more lives are saved and the less stuff is destroyed.”

Conceived by the group of students the Lumkani fire-detector is now set for commercial launch. The detector measures the rate at which heat rises in a shack, indicating when there might be a fire risk. Connected to a chain of boxes stationed with neighbours, the alarm allows neighbours to intervene before the fire becomes too large to fight.

As Gluckman explained to Fast Company: “The critical challenge is inebriation. People have been cooking, and they fall asleep and don’t wake up when there’s a fire.

Hundreds of Lumkani detectors have been sold in municipalities in the Cape Town area – they cost less than R 100 – and the company has plans to distribute the device around South Africa, as well as worldwide.


Nuru Lights can be head mounted, left on flat surfaces, hung from ceilings or bottles, and are bright enough to provide illumination for an entire room. They are a cheap solution to lighting in electricity starved informal settlements. Except for one thing, the LED’s need a charge before they can work.

Vijay Mitha, whose company Shakti Energy, produces the lights has a solution – the Nuru PowerCycle. Pedalling for 20 minutes generates enough electricity to recharge mobile phones and power five Nuru Lights. Mitha, whose company produces energy products for people living in poor communities with little or no access to power says his Nuru products replaces not only the need for candles and paraffin lamps but is also more environmental friendly.

nuru-powercycle---textThe Nuru PowerCycles will give you enough energy to recharge phones and 5 nuru lights just from 20 minutes of pedalling. (Image: Shakti Energy)


At a cost of just R 4 a day the 5 Star Stove is extremely cost effective, and appeals to people living hand to mouth. More than that though, the stove is designed to lower the risk of shack fires.

Most shack fires can be traced back to an unattended paraffin stove tipping over and continuing to burn. When a 5 Star Stove tips over the flame dies out immediately, cutting out the risk of conflagration.

The stove can be used for multiple purposes as well. While it is designed to cut the risk of fire, the two plate gas stove can be used for cooking and suppling heat in energy poor households.


Producing solar powered lights and fire alarm kits that also double up as a phone charger is Shacurity’s forte.

The Shacurity kit comes installed with a smoke and fire detector, a siren that sounds off once fire is detected, a panic button, a mini fire extinguisher, safety and protection circuits and LED lights.