Picking up the pieces

Elricha Booysen, 5, relaxes on the mattress she and her mother, Stephanie, received from Gift of the Givers. Ms Booysen hopes a good Samaritan will bless her daughter with Christmas clothes.

Nearly a week after a fire destroyed 64 dwellings, residents of the Vygieskraal informal settlement were still hard at work rebuilding their homes.

The fire, on Tuesday December 13, left 250 people homeless.

On Monday December 19, when the Athlone News visited the area, some people were still busy rebuilding their homes, with a combination of metal sheets that had not completely been destroyed in the fire and the City of Cape Town’s starter kits provided for them.

Nobody was hurt during the fire, but most of the people affected, lost all their possessions.

The residents received assistance from the Mustadafin Foundation, in the form of food and blankets, in partnership with the City’s disaster management department; and Gift of the Givers provided 79 mattresses to the affected families on Wednesday December 14.

This time is especially difficult for resident Stephanie Booysen, who wanted to give her only child, Elricha, 5, a memorable Christmas.

“We are very grateful for all the assistance we have received. I lost everything in the fire.

“I so much wanted to give my daughter a nice Christmas, so I bought her Christmas clothes early,” Ms Booysen said.

“However, her clothes, and even the money I had saved for the holiday season, were all burnt out. My heart’s desire is to see that my little girl looks pretty on Christmas, because all children want to look and feel special on this day.

“I am not ungrateful for all the help we received, but I’m hoping someone will assist with providing her a Christmas outfit.”

Another resident, Samantha Thomas, who is six months pregnant, said she had to sleep outside on the night of the fire. The City had not made provision for emergency shelter.

“We lost everything in the fire. The night of the fire, I was asleep already and was woken when I heard people screaming. I was so scared for me and my baby’s life. I’m glad we were not hurt, but we lost everything in the fire,” Ms Thomas said.

While speaking to the Athlone News on Monday December 19, she was sitting outside her home, which her boyfriend was still rebuilding.

Tiger Kitasa and Frances Gwanda, who are both Tanzanian, were also sitting in front of their incomplete home with heavy hearts.

The men said they had lost all their documents in the fire, including their passports and permits. “We couldn’t save anything. We have to start from scratch,” Mr Gwanda said.

Rachel Morkel also raised her concerns about people who had lost important documents in the fire. “There are many people who will be unable to receive their social grant payments at the end of this month because they lost their identity documents and the children’s birth certificates in the fire,” Ms Morkel said.

Meanwhile, in preparation for the “fire season”, the City of Cape Town’s fire and rescue service brought 92 additional firefighters into the fold to help fight fires over summer.

The employment of seasonal firefighters is one of several steps to ensure the service can deal with the spike in fires at this time of the year.

The group includes 57 seasonal firefighters and 35 learner firefighters.

From Monday January 2, another 63 seasonal firefighters will be ready to join the front line.

Between November 2015 and April 2016, the City’s fire and rescue service responded to 9 983 fires, with 80 percent of them classified as bush, grass or rubbish fires.

“Cape Town’s summer is characterised by high temperatures and of course the south-easterly wind, which makes firefighting a very difficult job indeed.

“It doesn’t help when one considers that many fires can be prevented.” said JP Smith, the mayoral committee member for safety and security.

“We have done more than 900 fire safety interventions this year, but for some the penny just never drops.

“Most of the fires in informal settlements at this time of year are caused by substance abuse-related negligence.

“On the other hand, you have the pyromaniacs who come out to play, setting alight large tracts of vegetation.

“We’ve had our hands full in the South Peninsula in particular in the last two years.

“Our firefighters take enormous strain during summer and I commend them for a job well done every single time,” said Mr Smith.

The City appealed to residents to do their bit to help prevent fires or mitigate the impact of fires this summer by implementing the following safety measures:

Steer clear of illegal electrical connections.

Switch off plugs and appliances when not in use.

Do not leave stoves or paraffin appliances unattended, and make sure they’re on a flat surface.

Keep children away from stoves, candles and matches and teach them about the dangers of fire.

Do not smoke in bed.

Make sure candles or other flammable appliances are extinguished or switched off when going to bed.

Build dwellings a good distance, at least 3m, apart to prevent fires from spreading. Make sure this space is kept open.

Keep roads and access to dwellings clear at all times.

Do not block roads with possessions when there is a fire.

Do not prevent or disrupt the work of fire crews fighting fires

Fires can be reported to the City’s public emergency communication centre by calling 021 480 7700 from a cellphone or 107 from a landline.