Unlikely heroes save 27 from killer fire

2011-06-14 00:00

SOME of the residents of the Struisbult care centre on the East Rand jumped out of windows and had to be caught, Howell Davies, one of the heroes of the disaster, said yesterday.

Twelve people died in the early hours of yesterday morning when a fire started at about midnight in Section A of the care centre for elderly and mentally ill people in Dunnottar outside Nigel.

It is suspected that the fire was caused by an electrical fault in the power distribution box near the dining room.

Twenty-seven people were treated for minor injuries.

Three unlikely heroes rose to the occasion to help rescue inmates from the the blazing frail care centre.

Davies and his son Wesley live a few houses away from the care centre.

“Wesley phoned me and said the old-age home is on fire and he can hear people screaming. Wesley used bolt cutters to open the security door at the end of the corridor and broke the lock and we could at least get some of the people out of there that way.

“The women were in their nightclothes and sopping wet. Inside, the water was hot from the glowing corrugated iron roof, but as soon as we got some of the people out, they just turned around and walked back inside again.

“We then wrapped them in blankets and made them sit up against the fence. Some of them were jumping out of the windows and we had to catch them and stop them from falling,” said Davies.

Another man who got stuck in to help save the sick, aged and mentally disturbed people was Karel Croucamp (27), who worked as a guard at the centre until a few months ago.

“When I got there the people were standing in front of the windows screaming, with the flames behind and above them. I smashed some of the windows with a fire extinguisher and pulled the people out.

“It was difficult to get them out, you had to lift them up and through the windows,” he said.

An assistant nurse, Thoso Malase, said they battled to get the people out of the burning building.

“I have never seen people burning before. They are old and weak and we had to pull and drag them like animals to get them out of there. And the whole time they were screaming. We couldn’t do any more,” she said with tears in her eyes.

Babalwa Ngalo, the nurse on duty, said she was walking through the dining room of Section A shortly before midnight when the distribution box suddenly gave off sparks and burst into flames.

“I ran out and called the security guard. He fetched a fire extinguisher and we tried to put the fire out, but there was too much smoke,” said Ngalo.

Maria Diali (60) said she opened her eyes when she heard the shouts out in the corridor.

“I shouted to my room mate, ‘Susan, we’re burning, the house is full smoke’,” Diali said.

Susan Seaward (56) helped her into her wheelchair and pushed her past the blazing rooms out into the open.

Amanda Marais (58) said she lost all her possessions in the blaze.

Marais said only four nurses were on duty yesterday morning to look after 155 residents.

She said the supervisor on duty had not arrived for work.

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