Start-up Spotlight: Shack fire early-warning systems save lives

August 19th, 2019, Published in Articles: EngineerIT

With its latest project, South African startup, Lumkani, has installed its early warning fire detection system in 20 000 homes across South Africa. To date, Lumkani has equipped 40 000 high fire risk homes in several of the country’s informal settlements with this system. The project was funded by the GSMA Mobile for Development Programme, via the Mobile for Humanitarian Innovation Fund, to create resilience in the most vulnerable communities of South Africa.

Within the first six months of operation, the system has already reduced the spread of fire in 16 incidents. Lumkani’s system creates a community-wide alert in the early phases of a fire. The fire alarm in every home within 60 m of the fire rings, and text messages are sent to all residents, so even those at work or elsewhere can respond.

“Lumkani has always had the dream of making communities more resilient to the devastation of shack fires. Having the opportunity to cover an additional 20 000 South African homes with our early warning system has been a big step towards realising this,” says Francois Petousis, Director of Humanitarian Projects at Lumkani. “Every week we hear stories of people who have heard our fire alarms ringing in a neighbourhood, or have received our SMS saying that their house is on fire which has helped them to race home to put out a small fire before it caused any damage. That is huge motivation for us to reach even more homes across our country.”

One such story is that of Nomfusi, who had a Lumkani fire detector installed in her home on the 9 November 2018 in the Taiwan Informal Settlement, in Khayelitsha, Cape Town. Her account of the fire that took place on the 7 February 2019 is a terrifying one: “The Lumkani device actually woke me and I saw the fire. I got my children and we escaped out of a small window. If it wasn’t for the Lumkani device which woke me up, I would have lost my life.” Fortunately, Nomfusi survived with only minor burns to her legs.

Beyond creating early warning technology, Lumkani has worked together with Hollard to develop a fire cover product that allows people to insure their informal home and all its contents against fire, something which previously did not exist in South Africa. Lumkani captures geo-location information on its app to create “addresses” for informal homes, and with that, enable these properties to be insured against fire.

Contact Lumkani, Tel 087 057-5703,

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