Dramatic fight to save home

2008-09-15 00:00

A Mount Michael family near Hilton yesterday commandeered a fire engine to save their home from a fire after the firemen “disappeared”.

The family narrowly escaped death when raging fires from the nearby plantation threatened to engulf their home, which has a thatched roof, on Sunday.

John Fismer (56), his wife Diana Fismer (50) and their daughter Helen McKenzie (16), who live on Dennis Shepstone Road, were forced to battle the fires with the help of their neighbours for more than three hours, while the Msunduzi fire department was unable to send a fire engine.

The fires started in the Mount Michael plantations and the strong winds on Sunday brought them towards nearby houses.

Diana said that she telephoned the department many times from around 3.30 pm, but the first fire engine only arrived at 6 pm from Howick.

She said that by that time, the fire had crossed the road and was burning grass and debris in front of their home.

Diana said her husband had to quickly put out a flame that landed on their thatched roof, and the couple sprayed water on the roof to slow any potential flames. She said that as the fires raged even closer to their home, neighbours helped, some of them using the clothes they were wearing, to try and put out the fires.

When the first fire engine arrived, instead of putting out the flames, they went inside the forest to investigate the source of the fire. Meanwhile, the fire was getting closer to the Fismer’s home, Diana said. “The firefighters disappeared for almost two hours.”

Diana said that while the firefighters were in the forest, Helen joined two hosepipes and dragged them across the road, wearing sunglasses to cover her eyes and a makeshift mask to prevent smoke inhalation, and put out the fire in the dark.

John and some of their neighbours jumped inside the fire engine that was left running and drove it up the road towards the raging flames close to their home and used the hoses to put out the fire.

“The whole thing was terrifying. We were in our pajamas scared that our house was going to burn down. At one point, the person who answered the phone from the fire department was rude and told me that I should just do something about the fire. This made us panic even more,” said Diana.

She said that one of the engines that responded to the fire was from Howick and the other from Mooi River. No fire engine was sent by the city’s department.

Msunduzi spokeswoman Evodia Mahlangu said that their fire engines could not respond to the fire because they were dispatched to fires that took place in various areas around the city. She said that they attended to many fires in areas including Edendale, Northdale, Plessislaer, Clarendon and Berg Street.

“When we cannot attend to fires immediately we request nearby fire stations to assist,” added Mahlangu.

thandom@witness.co.za

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