A FIRE that broke out at the Huis Palms old-age home in Walvis Bay on Saturday night led to the death of 88-year-old Hendrina Els.
At around 20h30 Fire Chief Willie van Zyl received the first call that a room in the frail-care wing of the old age home was on fire.
“We were there in minutes and all the firefighting vehicles and 13 firefighters were harnessed to stop the fire from spreading. If we were a little later, the entire wing would have been destroyed,” Van Zyl said.
Thanks to the inflammable fibreglass insulation material in the ceiling and a firewall, the spread of the fire was slowed down. Most of the damage was to the room where the fire started, while there was also water damage as a result of the attempt to extinguish the fire.
It is uncertain still what started the fire. Forensics expert Dr Paul Ludik will be arriving in Walvis Bay today to investigate the cause of the fire. It was reported that a bang was heard from in the room where the fire started – the room where Els was.
Janice Snyman of St Gabriel’s Community Ambulance Services said 18 old people were rushed to hospital where they were treated for smoke inhalation and shock. There were no other injuries.
A security officer of G4S also had to be treated with oxygen for smoke inhalation.
The regional crime investigation coordinator of Erongo police, Deputy Commissioner Ottilie Kashipuulwa, said the police were awaiting forensic results before she could comment on the cause of the fire. She confirmed the name of the deceased.
The late Els was well known for a heroic deed in the 1950s when she fought off a lioness with her bare hands to save her husband’s life. When the lion pounced on her with her arm in its jaws, her husband managed to shoot the animal dead on top of her.
Els was apparently asleep when the fire broke out in her room.
The cooperation by residents from all parts of town on Saturday night was something that amazed Fire Chief Van Zyl.
“In my 28 years of service I have not experienced this type of camaraderie amongst people of all walks of life. It was beautiful. It looked like a church bazaar in a small town. People were everywhere, helping. Beds, mattresses, clothes – everything was carried out to the lawn – where others helped the old folk to settle down,” he explained.
Senior citizens were taken to the Walvis Bay High School hall and Welwitschia Park Hospital where they were accommodated for the night. By Sunday, they started returning to the old-age home, where recovery work had already begun.