Mercury: Eight killed as fires raze settlements

Eight killed as fires raze settlements

August 04 2008 at 07:31AM

By Gugu Mbonambi

Eight people, including several children, died and dozens were left homeless after fires swept through two shack settlements in Durban at the weekend.

Ward 31 councillor Gloria Borman said five people, who had been locked in a shack and were unable to get out, were burnt beyond recognition.

Three others, including two children, died in a neighbouring shack.

“Having to lose eight people in a community is very traumatic and this was one of the worst shack fires I have ever witnessed,” said Borman.

“Seeing those charred bodies lying there was an awful experience,” she said.

The eThekwini fire department’s divisional commander, Dennis Govender, believed the fire was started in a shack when a candle fell over while the occupants were asleep.

“Four boys and a pregnant girl were discovered in one shack by firefighters after extinguishing the raging fire. The security gate was locked and the children were unable to escape,” said Govender.

Emergency relief was provided by the city’s disaster management team and the displaced were taken to a community hall.

“The municipality will assist with material so that those who lost their homes can rebuild their shacks, as we are still busy with a housing development plan in Cato Crest,” said Borman.

ANC eThekwini chairman John Mchunu was at the Cato Crest community hall yesterday to provide mattresses and Red Cross-donated food to the displaced people.

“We will be talking to the bereaved families and will assist with the funeral arrangements,” said Mchunu.

In another fire, 22 people were left homeless when 16 shacks were razed at the Kennedy Road informal settlement on Friday.

S’bu Zikode, the president of the shack dwellers’ movement Abahlali baseMjondolo, said no fatalities were reported.

The movement planned to have an emergency meeting with the municipality to help those affected.

An unattended paraffin stove is thought to have caused the fire.

“The situation is getting out of hand… shacks cannot just keep burning like this. I would like to issue a strong warning throughout the province that shack dwellers need to be careful when using candles and paraffin stoves,” said Zikode.

“Alcohol also plays a significant role when shacks are burnt because most of the fires take place during weekends when people are drunk,” he said.

o This article was originally published on page 4 of The Mercury on August 04, 2008