Home blazes: Heater and hotplate left on sparked fatal fires

2008-07-07 00:00

CHILLY weather in Pietermaritzburg means that many residents go to sleep with their heaters on and has led to two people being burned to death, in Imbali and Dambuza.

Weather SA forecasts rainy, cold weather between tomorrow and Saturday, which could mean more people resorting to dangerous heating methods.

Nompumelelo Xulu (41) from Imbali stage one was burnt to death at about 5 am on Sunday.

Her death followed another just a few kilometres away. Zakhele Khumalo, estimated to be about 23, died two hours earlier in Dambuza.

The temperature was six degrees Celsius on the night before the tragedies, and in the morning plummeted to four degrees.

Xulu, whose eight-year-old son Anele screamed for help as their house burned, had fallen asleep with a heater on.

Khumalo, who was heard crying for help, left a hotplate on next to his bed when he went to sleep.

“A neighbour [of Xulu] was warming up his minibus taxi preparing to go to work at about 5 am when he noticed thick smoke coming from Mpume’s bedroom window.

“He jumped over the fence to investigate the cause of the smoke, only to find out that the six-room house was on fire. He shouted at Xulu’s family members to get out of the house,” said Xulu’s mother-in-law Dolly Xulu.

Dolly Xulu said it was Anele who first woke up inside the burning house. He awakened his two older brothers to save their mother, whose room was on fire.

By that time, the house was full of smoke and flames could be seen coming out of the windows. Neighbours arrived in numbers and tried to put out the fire using buckets and hosepipes.

Later, the Msunduzi Fire and Rescue Services team arrived, but it was too late.

Dolly Xulu said Xulu often slept with a heater on. She said Xulu’s children would make sure that they switched it off before they went to bed.

“But this time it seems that no one remembered to switch the heater off.

“It was a lucky coincidence that Anele, who usually sleeps with his mother, chose to sleep with one of his brothers,” said Dolly Xulu.

Khumalo, who was a landlord in Dambuza, arrived home after an evening of drinking with his friends. He plugged in the one-plate stove to warm himself until he fell asleep, which he usually did. At about 3 am, his tenants heard him shouting for help.

“When I got out of my room, I saw my neighbour kicking Zakhele’s door. When it finally opened, a ball of fire shot out. Zakhele had already collapsed. We used buckets to put the fire out. When firemen arrived Zakhele was already dead,” said Khumalo’s tenant Fikelephi Mnguni.

Msunduzi Fire and Rescue Services official Craig February said that since June 1, his department has received 14 calls to attend to fires in homes. “The biggest threat in winter is that people overload their plugs, which results in fires. They also leave heaters unattended,” said February.

bhans@witness.co.za

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