Runaway fire in Umhlanga private hospital kills two patients

2009-06-02 00:00

A TEAM of forensic investigators from Pretoria will investigate the circumstances behind the fire that claimed the lives of two patients at the Umhlanga Hospital in Durban yesterday.

It is believed that the blaze started around 4.30 am in a linen cupboard, close to the hospital’s maternity ward, and soon spread to the surgical ward on the first floor.

Smoke billowed from the windows of the plush hospital overlooking Umhlanga’s upmarket residential area.

The fire department, police, the SAPS rescue unit, Metro Police, Netcare 911, and the provincial emergency services were at the scene within minutes to help with the eva­cuation of staff and patients.

Night staff had to quickly evacuate patients, while firefighters put out the fire. Residents from neighbou­ring flats also rushed to assist.

There were no patients or babies in the maternity ward when the fire broke out.

Netcare’s regional director, Ian Goble, said the deceased, Limda Mane (62) and R.J. Sharp (72), died of smoke inhalation.

It is believed the two patients were asleep in the ward when the fire broke out.

Police spokesman Captain Khephu Ndlovu said paramedics found the two lying on the floor while eva­cuating the ward.

He said police opened an inquest docket into the men’s deaths. Police suspect the blaze could have been started by a gas leak, but this still has to be confirmed.

An eyewitness, who lives nearby, said she was awoken by sirens and ran to investigate.

“It was chaotic when we got there; some of us even helped the emerge­ncy services. Patients and nurses were so scared. Many were shaking when they came out,” she said.

eThekwini fire chief Mark te Water said a team of forensic experts will start investigations into the fire and will release their findings later this week.

Te Water said that while there was no immediate evidence to suggest arson, it could not be ruled out.

Meanwhile, hospital management have extended their condolences to the victims’ families.

“We are absolutely devastated about this tragedy … the general manager has been in personal contact with the next of kin of the deceased,” said Goble.

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