West Cape News (Cape Town)

6 March 2012

South Africa: Weekend Shack Fires Kill Two People, Man Saves a Third Person From Death

Shack fires in Cape Town claimed the lives of a child and an adult this weekend, and have left an 80-year-old woman fighting for her life at Somerset Hospital after she sustained second degree burns on 80% of her body.

The fires that broke out in Du Noon's Bekhela informal settlement and in QQ Section, Khayelitsha, also left 215 people homeless.

At the scene in Bekhela informal settlement on Sunday, men were still rebuilding their homes while women were seen nursing their infants.

Bekhela resident Bongeka Zakele, 19, who shared her one-room shack with her husband, said she was awakened by loud screaming just before dawn on Saturday.

Zakele said she and her husband jumped out of bed to find the screams coming from their neighbour, an elderly woman, whose shack was engulfed in flames.

She said her husband, Sivuyile Baliso, kicked down the door of the burning structure and came out carrying their elderly neighbour.

She said the woman was badly burnt and her skin was peeling off.

Baliso said when he kicked the door down the woman was standing just inside, trying to find her way out. He said he grabbed her and took her out safely.

He managed to avoid serious injury to himself and was able to go to work on Sunday, he said.

Zakele said they did not lose anything to the fire as their shack was only partially burnt on one side thanks to the efforts of residents who battled furiously to prevent the fire from spreading.

However, 30 shacks were burnt to the ground, leaving 120 people in the informal settlement without shelter.

Nolukhaya Ngxoza, 33, a mother of three children aged five, 11 and 13, was one of the people who lost her home and all her belongings.

The fire destroyed her ID book, her children's birth certificates and brought to an end to her take away business as her R1 000 capital savings went up in flames.

"I had a fish and chips shop. About R1000 was burnt. My gas stove, pots were all burnt," said Ngxoza.

While residents were fighting the fire, about 100 metres away another fire started up which claimed the live of a child and destroyed 20 shacks, leaving 70 people homeless.

Community Leader of that section Christopher Matomera said a young male child was burnt to death.

Matomera said the fire was started by a man who had returned home at daybreak from a shebeen and feel asleep while attempting to cook a meal on a gas stove.

The man had since fled the informal settlement, he said.

City fire spokesperson Theo Layne confirmed all the fire incidents.

Layne said the fire in which an elderly woman sustained 80% burns to her body was started by a candle that fell over and set bedding alight.

The cause of the fire that killed the child was yet to be established, said Layne

He said a man died from burn wounds when a shack fire destroyed eight shacks in QQ Section, Mew Way, Khayelitsha during the early hours of Saturday morning.

25 people were left homeless in QQ Section, he said, and the cause of that fire was being investigated.

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