Bontas fire – toddler critical

Residents are not happy with the amount of materials provided by the City to rebuild their homes.

Eighteen-month-old Celina Charles is in a critical condition at the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital after suffering extensive burns to the face, arm and chest during a fire, which broke out in a backyard dwelling in Firethorn Street, Bonteheuwel, on Saturday.

Celina and five adults were admitted to hospital following the fire, which started after 10pm. The five adults were admitted to Tygerberg Hospital.

The fire destroyed nine dwellings, leaving 29 people homeless.

Ward 50 councillor Angus Mckenzie said the residents had been taken to the Bonteheuwel Community Centre in Jakkalsvlei Road, Bonteheuwel, where they were given a warm meal and mattresses to sleep on.

Senior firefighter Tracey Whittaker said the probable cause of the fire was a lit candle which had fallen over, igniting bedding and other items.

Charlotte Powell, portfolio head for the disaster risk management centre’s public awareness and preparedness, said the City’s informal settlements department would provide materials to residents for rebuilding.

This is the second fire in seven days to hit backyarders after a dwelling in Devils Peak Road, Heideveld, caught alight on Sunday March 19.

The fire struck after 3am. Residents claimed the fire brigade had only arrived an hour later, and in the meantime, they battled the blaze which was difficult because they didn’t have enough water.

Sophia Marshall, who has three children aged 9, 18, and 24, including a disabled child who still wears nappies, lost her clothing, bedding and kitchenware.

She woke up to people screaming that there was a fire.

“I opened the door and took my children and ran outside. I called my son to help but couldn’t save everything,” she said.

“I feel very sad. All our things are gone. We don’t even have water here. There is no water in the pipes.”

Fareez Norman, who lives with his wife and three children – one 14-year-old and 11-year-old twins, said six wendy houses had burnt in the fire. He runs a barber shop from home and lost all his tools in the fire as well as his new lounge suite.

“I woke up at around 3am with the fire in middle of all the wendy houses.

“The trees caught alight and then fire exploded. My barber shop burnt out and that was my way of making a living,” he said.

Mr Norman said family members came inside to wake them up.

“I had to put children through the window. We lost everything, our couches, new furniture, tools for my shop, clothes for my children and my wife,” he said.

While the Athlone News visited the site, the City of Cape Town brought each family a starter kit consisting of zinc roof sheeting, wooden beams, a door, a window and screws and nails to build new homes, but the residents who say they previously had 9m x 3m houses were not happy with the material which would only provide a 3m x 3m metre structure.

“This is not enough supplies for us. How can they give us such a little stuff? But we don’t pay for it, so we just have to make do with it,” said Mr Norman.

Another resident, Melvin May, who repairs televisions for a living, said it had been too noisy to sleep on Saturday evening, so he stayed awake until the early hours of Sunday, and just as he had fallen asleep he was awoken by people screaming about the fire.

“I heard screaming saying, ‘Uncle Melvin, your place is burning’. When I opened the door the fire came through the house.”

Mr May has two children living with him, aged 14 and 18.

“People came in and woke my children up. I put my children out first, and then I went, but by the time we got out, the place was burning,” he said.

Mr May now sleeps outside because he has nowhere else to go.

“I lost all the TVs that I was fixing for people as well as clothes, shoes, and my ID. I’ve been wearing the same clothes for three days,” he said.

Community leader Abdurazak Meyer said the City had not provided the residents with enough materials.

“This is not enough for the families – a guy with a wife and three children now has to make do with material for a single room. I don’t know how they are going to survive; it’s very unfair.”

Area central mini mayor, Siyabulela Mamkeli, said the kits were standard issue whenever people had been left homeless, irrespective of the size of their old structures.

“It is impossible for the City to replace every size of structure, and a standard kit, which caters for the average size of informal structure – was thus developed.

“It should be noted that in many instances this kit is bigger than the one that the displaced victims previously had.

“It must also be borne in mind that we are the only municipality in the country to provide such building kits to fire-affected residents and that all of the timber poles that are handed out as part of these kits have been treated with fire-retardant paint prior to being issued,” he said.