Into the inferno

2010-02-11 00:00

AN orphanage mother died painfully in a struggle to save children at a home at Ingogo, about 20 km outside of Newcastle, yesterday morning.

The fire claimed the lives of 11 people, eight of them children.

Sara Allen, originally from Durban, had run the Hope in Christ home on a farm in the area for about six years.

In the early hours of yesterday morning, she was woken up by the blaze and struggled to save some of her children.

Neighbour Albert Kubheka said he was feeding his cattle when he noticed smoke from the home and went to investigate.

“I never saw something like this before. As I got closer I could hear screams from inside the house and the madam had just got inside the house and two or three children were lying on the ground.

“As people gathered here, the fire was uncontrollable and the screams were fading one by one. The next thing I knew bodies of the dead and injured were lying all over the place,” said Kubheka.

Bystanders said the bodies were burnt beyond recognition.

KZN police spokesman Superintendent Jay Naicker said nine children managed to escape with only minor burns and were taken to a Newcastle hospital, but eight other children and three adults were caught in the blaze.

Naicker said late yesterday that police were still sifting through the rubble to establish if there were any more victims.

He confirmed that all 11 bodies were burnt beyond recognition, adding that police fire investigators from Pretoria are on their way to the area to investigate the cause.

Among the dead are Allen’s son Nick and his twin sons aged 12 and a six-year-old daughter.

It is not clear who the third adult was.

Allen’s daughter, Dianne Pieterse, said her mother was a selfless person who had started the orphanage from scratch.

“It’s a terrible experience because we are used to phoning her and asking for advice. When we visited here she would make us comfortable, reminding us over and over that she loved us,” said Pieterse.

She said that when her mother started the home, the family helped her put it together. She said her mother would never give up on what she wanted to achieve.

“She was a remarkable woman who always put others first. I’m sure it would have killed her if she were to survive the fire and find out that there are children who didn’t make it.

“She loved those children and she never regretted her choice of caring for them, giving them a home and the motherly love she has always given to us as her own children,” she said.

Bhekani Mswane, acting head of the Newcastle Municipality department of community services, said the Hope in Christ home was accredited by the provincial Welfare Department as a place of safety for children.

The minister of Women, Children and Persons with Disabilities, Noluthando Mayende-Sibiya, said the incident is unfortunate and a national tragedy.

“This unfortunate incident happens as we observe World Orphan Week, a period during which we reflect on the plight of the estimated 143 million children who are orphans around the world,” she said in a statement yesterday.

The cause of the fire is still unknown, but Social Development MEC Meshack Radebe told the KwaZulu-Natal Legislature yesterday that a gas explosion or an electric fault in the house is the suspected cause of the incident.

An inquest and arson dockets will be opened for further investigation.



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