Jika Joe residents brave flames to save belongings

2013-04-05 00:00

AS a fire raged in the Jika Joe informal settlement yesterday, panicked residents scrambled to save their possessions, some braving the flames to fling their belongings away from the path of the inferno.

The area was gutted by mid-morning with at least 30 shacks destroyed.

Some residents were willing to risk their lives to try to save what possessions they could.

A policewoman had to restrain two men rushing to their homes, which were engulfed by flames.

“There is nothing you can do now. You have to move back and they [the fire-fighters] will put out the fire,” she told them.

An elderly resident lost his cool with police and paramedics when they warned him to move back from the flames.

“You should be going in there to put that fire out!

“These are our homes that are burning!” the man shouted.

Young men threw bulging hessian bags and blankets to waiting women as flames licked their heels.

“We suspect that the fire started in one of the houses where someone had probably left their stove on,” said resident Zamokuhle Luthuli.

His parents run a transport business and had travelled to Swaziland on Wednesday night. Many items, including bicycles and clothes that had been packaged for the trip, were saved.

“We tried to get many things out, but we could not get all of it because the fire was so big by then,” said Luthuli.

The throng of onlookers grew quickly as crowds of children — at home for the holidays — rushed towards the noise and activity.

By 10.39 am more than a dozen tightly-packed structures were ablaze and the fire quickly spread to other shacks.

Cries erupted from onlookers as the block’s sole car caught alight, its bonnet bursting and windshield cracking with a bang that sent a stray dog dashing for cover.

As soon as the flames started to die down, an elderly resident tried to walk through to his home, but was warned by a policeman: “You are going to die”.

“I am too old, I no longer care whether I die,” the man replied.

Metres away, a woman with a granddaughter on her hip, said the fire was not the first.

“This happens too often … these people do not have a bank. They have their money under their mattresses.”

At 10.46 am, children were chased off the dirt road to make way for the fire brigade. The fire-fighters subdued the blaze in minutes.

Dick Kameza, of Malawi, said all his belongings were destroyed and he was left with only the clothes on his back.

“I wasn’t home when it happened … I lost a computer, three bicycles, a TV and R2 600 cash, everything.”

The loss that concerned him the most was that of his passport, said Kameza.

“My passport was destroyed … I will not be able to do it here and I can only get a new one done back home.”

Another Malawian, Ahmed Sema, was also not at home when the fire gutted his shack he shares with five others.

Like Kameza, he too was worried most about the loss of his passport.

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