Research hypothesis & objectives

The proposed research aims to develop new methods and tools required to evaluate and model fire risks within informal settlements of the Western Cape in South Africa, so that appropriate and cost-effective solutions and strategies can be suggested to improve the resilience of South African informal settlement communities against large-scale fires.


The research will examine the hypothesis that fire spread in informal settlements can be technically treated using similar physical models and tools already applied in wildland forest fire analysis, and therefore, that the science and engineering used to manage forest fires could, with due consideration to sociocultural factors, be used at least in part interchangeably.


Both types of fires involve non-uniform distributed fire loads over large areas, are difficult to access by fire fighters, and can be assessed in part using satellite imaging pre, during, and post-fire.


Some of the key differences between these two fire types are; 1) proximity to, and loss of, human life; 2) characteristics of the fuel load, and thus the combustion physics; and 3) management strategies and resources deployed.


To achieve the research objectives of the project and to assess the hypothesis that informal settlements fires can be treated similarly to wildland fires, several objectives must be achieved:

  1. Perform shack surveys in several informal settlements in South Africa (SA) to enhance current stochastic topological data on informal settlement composition (both physical and socio-political).
  2. Perform interviews with key stakeholders in the preparedness, management, recovery, adaptation cycle of fires within informal settlements.
  3. Perform lab and field experiments on real scale dwellings and model settlements to understand and quantify key fire spread parameters required for simulation e.g. fire growth, heat release rate, heat fluxes, wind, fuel type, climate, prevention/mitigation strategies etc.
  4. Model the fire experiments to develop a bespoke informal settlement fire model to be used in developing a mapping algorithm to identify critical at risk areas within informal settlements.
  5. Produce a generic risk-mapping framework and best practice resilience-based technical guideline for improving for informal settlements, and apply this to the informal settlements of the Western Cape.
  6. Deliver capacity building and knowledge transfer workshops and CPD events on relevant aspects of fire safety to fire fighters, students, NGOs, policy makers and residents.

The above objectives are split across several distinct but related work packages.