Separate fires leave families homeless

A residents battle flames at a backyard shack in 13the Avenue. Photo: Mpumi Kiva

TWO families of Oudtshoorn have lost their belongings in two separate shack fires in Bhongolethu on Sunday, 28 March.

In the first incident a family is still puzzled after their two-bedroom backyard shack burnt to the ground in 13th Avenue, Newlook.

The owner of the dwelling Marhewu Mdamba, said he was sitting outside with friends when a fire broke out in the backyard rooms of the zink structure. Two bedrooms and the kitchen area of Mdamba’s home were razed to the ground by the strong flames which nearly spread to nearby brick houses. The family lost several items including furniture when the blaze engulfed their home.

Residents rushed to the scene with buckets of water and a hose to extinguish the inferno, but to no avail.
Another family living close to the structure had to move their furniture to safety as the strong flames threatened to spread to their homes.

Three water trucks of the Oudtshoorn fire department battled for two hours to extinguish the flames.
Mdamba said he is still trying to figure out how the fire started in his shack.

“I don’t know what started the fire. I was having a quiet Sunday afternoon with friends when the fire suddenly broke out. I am still puzzled as to what really caused the fire that destroyed everything we had. We are left with nothing, the electricity was off and nobody was cooking inside the shack.

“As a family we are very much devastated about what happened to our backyard house. The shack was housing our extended family and now it’s all gone. Residents came in and tried to extinguish the blaze but it was too strong, because it had already engulfed the entire structure. I am relieved that no one was injured in the fire,” he said.

• In another incident residents blamed children playing with matches and fire crackers after a one bedroom shack caught fire in Black Joint on Sunday evening.

Stefan Goosen reports that a bystander on the scene, Jackie Stefaans, says this fire is just a sign of one of the many problems that shack-dwellers have to live with daily.

“The fire department was quick to get to the scene, but these fires spread faster than they can get here. People from neighbouring shacks put their own lives in danger to try to stop the fire from spreading to their homes; one man even climbed onto the roof of his shack which was right next to the burning structure,” she says.

She recalls seeing a little child coming out of the burning shack as a piece of burning debris fell on her head. “The child wasn’t hurt, but that trauma will stay with her forever.”

According to Stefaans, who assists with social work in the community, it was not children who caused the fire.

“This relates to social issues. Living in these shacks is a daily struggle. This is where alcohol and drug abuse flourishes, and where women and children are exposed to various traumas, including rape and other abuses.

The smallest incident can also cause escalating disagreements between community members. It speaks to the bigger issue of the lack of housing in the area as well. People are forced into these situations.

“Furthermore, these informal dwellings burning down have a knock-on effect on the housing waiting list. In situations like these, the housing department must now focus on these people, instead of those on the waiting list. It is a dangerous situation,” she said.

Oudtshoorn Fire and Rescue said the cause of the two fires are still not known and urged residents to be cautious of flammable items. (By Mpumi Kiva)

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