Project Details


Mitigating the loss of life and property caused by shack fires

Project URL:
Project Twitter: @lumkanifire

Organisations Involved Lumkani (@lumkanifire)
Community Organisation Resource Centre
Technology Innovation Agency
The Bertha Centre for Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship

  • Health
  • Safety & Security
  • Physical Computing

Communities living in slums across Cape Town are frequently devastated by fire. “You always have the fear,” says Priscilla Gala, a shack inhabitant whose house first burned down 10 years ago, killing her sister-in-law. Three years later, her house burned down again, and then again last December. A New Year’s Day fire in 2013 killed five, and left over 4,000 people homeless.

Horrified by the danger poorer inhabitants of their city were facing, a group of students came together to develop a low-cost detection device and community alarm. Named Lumkani – which means ‘beware’ in Xhosa – the device senses rapid rises in temperature, which is a more accurate indicator of fire in dwellings where smoke is often present to cook food or provide heat.

Once activated, Lumkani transmits a signal to other devices within a 20-metre radius, so that neighbours are aware of potential danger and can mobilise help or evacuate. Currently subsidised through charitable donations, Lumkani costs just $1.30 and operates on a single AA battery that lasts up to two years.

Since launching in 2014, Lumkani has been installed in 7,000 homes in Cape Town, and co-founders Francois Petousis and Samuel Ginsburg say that the device has already prevented what could have been five major fires. The device was a finalist at the 2015 Katherine M. Swanson Young Innovator Award 2015, and won the People’s Choice Award at Global Social Venture Competition and Best Startup Award in the Global Innovation through Science and Technology Challenge.

The next step is to expand beyond South Africa’s big cities throughout the nation, and to develop a way to alert emergency services through the device. To get in touch with the Lumkani team and find out more visit

Image courtesy of Lumkani

Last updated: 10th of August, 2016

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