10 people feared dead
Fires ravage KwaZulu-Natal
September 01, 2008 Edition 1
Sinegugu Ndlovu, Jeff Wicks, COLLEEN DARDAGAN, LATOYA NEWMAN & SAPA
Ten people are thought to have been killed by several fires in KwaZulu-Natal at the weekend.
Among the dead is an elderly man and his wife. The 85-year-old man and his 58-year-old wife died when fire engulfed their home in Madesheni, near Nkandla.
Authorities yesterday urged motorists to avoid using roads to Melmoth and Eshowe.
Melmoth protection services officer Derek Horne urged motorists not to use the R66 and R34 routes, warning that flames were jumping across the road in some areas.
“It’s like a war zone here. The fires are out of control. Please tell motorists to stay away,” he said.
KwaZulu-Natal Fire Protection Association operations manager Simon Thomas said there were several bush fires sweeping across the Midlands.
“At the moment, we have a large fire out of control in the Dargle area, near Howick. We have been fighting the blaze for the past two days and, so far, we have been able to hold it away from homesteads and farm houses,” said Thomas.
“We are also attending to fires in Underberg, Bergville, Richmond, Greytown and another near Sevenoaks. It’s been a crazy day with fires all over the place. There were three fires we couldn’t attend to because we didn’t have the manpower and they were too dangerous to fight,” he said.
Pietermaritzburg emergency services spokesman Vasu Naidoo said a workshop in Crammond was razed yesterday.
“We have distributed our resources and vehicles to all the fires, but at the moment we are stretched,” he said. “We have several calls outstanding because we just don’t have the manpower. The wind is causing havoc at the moment and we are hoping that it will die down as the night progresses.”
Naidoo said that no casualties had been reported.
Police were also investigating the cause of the crash of a fire-bomber plane soon after it took off near Melmoth on Saturday, killing the pilot.
Capt Justice Khumalo said the plane had experienced difficulty and had crashed into trees, killing New Zealander Don Ussher, 68. Ussher had taken off to engage in fire fighting duty in the heavily forested area of Babanango.
In Durban, several people were left homeless when a fire gutted the top story of Dalton hostel early yesterday.
Community leader Steve Thusi said that about 25 men, who were all asleep when the fire broke out, lost everything they owned. “When they woke up, the room was already on fire, they just ran out. Some didn’t even stop to put clothes on. They have lost everything.” he said. “I just thank God that no one was injured. We are making an appeal to anyone who can help us with blankets, or even a place for these people to sleep, to please come forward.”
Thusi said he was concerned as many had lost their identity documents.
“This is a problem. I am appealing to the home affairs department to make a special plan to assist these people,” he said.
A fire department spokesman, Alfred Newman, said the cause of the fire was unknown.
In response to inquiries from firefighters, Thusi said the fire hoses and extinguishers for the building had all been removed.
“We need to hold a meeting about this. There were hoses, but the guys used them to wash their taxis, so the council took them away. We must also see that extinguishers are installed.”
Newman confirmed that another fire had broken out at the Kennedy Road informal settlement, also early yesterday, when more than 80 shacks were destroyed.
“Fortunately no one was injured, but about 200 people have been displaced,” he said.
Settlement leader Muzi Mdlalose said it was suspected that the fire had started when a candle fell over in a shack.
“We suspect that more than 150 people have lost their homes, but this will be confirmed as we register the families in need,” said Mdlalose.
An eThekwini disaster management official said the council would provide affected people with food and blankets.
He said fires at an Isipingo informal settlement on Saturday morning and another at Myhill Place settlement in Sea Cow Lake that night had left at least 250 people displaced.
Government officials are to visit affected areas today to assess the damage.