Toddler dies in house fire

FIRE: A house was gutted down in Aloevale, after a fire engine arrived without water      PICTURE: ZINTLE BOBELO

Parents, child rushed to hospital with injuries 

A 20-month-old baby burned beyond recognition in a fire in Zone 2 Ezibeleni on Saturday evening.

Three other victims – the toddler’s parents aged 27 and 34 and sister, five, sustained injuries and were rushed to Frontier Hospital.

A neighbour and witness, Lumkile Nikani, 81, said he was woken by the cries

of a woman.

Nikani said the remaining family escaped and were rushed to the hospital by a neighbour, as the ambulance took too long to arrive.

”The fire was too intense for the residents to put out with their water buckets, because the water supply was off. It was the fire brigade which extinguished the fire. They municipality sent three fire engines,” he said.

Nikani said the police could not immediately find the body of the child. It was found the following morning, burned beyond recognition.

He said it was alleged that the fire had

occurred after one of the couple poured petrol out and set the house alight following an altercation.

Police spokesperson Namhla Mdleleni said Ezibeleni police were investigating a case of murder, attempted murder and arson.

”According to information, the couple had a quarrel and set alight the house. They managed to escape but unfortunately the child aged one year and eight months, died on the scene. Both parents and the five-year-old sustained injuries and are still in hospital,” Mdleleni said.

Firefighters’ failure to attend to emergencies, leaving residents with no option, but to battle fires on their own, has had members of the Komani community in a rage in recent times.

Angry residents of Aloevale apparently chased away firefighters they accused of failing to extinguish a fire in a home in the area on Sunday evening after a fire engine allegedly arrived at the site without water.

Rowan Smith, a resident who was disappointed at the way the fire department responded to the matter, said some items in the house could have been saved had the officials arrived on time. “The first person who called did not get a response. Eventually when the phone was answered we were told firefighters were not on site, they were at their houses and had to prepare to attend to the problem.

“When I called after I had communicated with them, they were still not here. I know they did not start the fire, but they could have done a lot. As you see, everything was destroyed.”

Smith said his mother, who was recently taken to hospital twice with health issues, and was not taking the news well. “She has relapsed after this incident, but we will try and get the relevant support to help build the house again.”

He said the cause of the fire was still unknown. Family member Jean Symons praised community members and the neighbourhood watch for helping in sourcing water to put out the fire. “When the fire brigade arrived, the two men asked if there was water in the area. How can they ask us that? We were expecting them to come with water.

”They came late and what if there were people trapped inside the house? One of the patrollers had to call someone else who came with his truck which had water to assist. We pay our municipal rates to receive such bad service,” said an irate Symons.

Resident Cliff Pringle said: “The irrational water cuts and unnecessary delay in arriving after alerted by residents is a ticking time bomb. This clearly illustrates the poor state of affairs of Komani, Enoch Mgijima and Chris Hani in cases of emergency and/or disaster.”

The incident comes after The Rep reported (Fire truck with no water sent to house on fire, January 15) that a municipal fire engine which failed to extinguish a blaze at a home in Sandringham after arriving on the scene without water, also did not have a wrench to open the fire hydrant in the street which could have served as a source. The report further said  that two men arrived at the scene with a security guard, which reflected that the municipality had insufficient fire fighters.

EMLM spokesperson Lonwabo Kowa has, however, dismissed claims that the fire brigade arrived in Aloevale without water, stating that residents sometimes took too long to report incidents which was the main problem. “When the municipal firefighters arrived at the scene, they were attacked by angry community members who pelted stones at the vehicles, forcing them to leave without extinguishing the fire.

The ward councillor requested a local businessman to help and that was when the fire was
extinguished.”With only one fire station and 29 fire fighters who work shifts, Kowa indicated that the fire department was under-resourced due to known financial constraints faced by the municipality. “Furthermore Enoch Mgijima lost five fire vehicles and a water trailer during the 2018 auction,” he said.

CHDM spokesperson Bulelwa Ganyaza said the district municipality only provided back-up upon request by the specific local municipality that indicated inability to respond to any incident. In this case it was Aloevale, according to Ganyaza, and CHDM was not alerted to any need of support. “The fire services function is decentralised to all local municipalities. With regard to the incident in Aloevale, the district municipality was not alerted of any need for support.”

Anyone who would like to donate to the Smith family can contact Benjamin Gordon Geduld on 076-890 7924 or Willie Kepkey on 076-084 7463. Cash contributions can be made to FNB account number 62890890702, cheque account.

 

 

By Abongile Solundwana and Zintle Bobelo

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