Pupils save gran, pets from burning house

2014-04-15 08:32
Terrel Gouws, Luke Pieterse and Calvin Scannell walk through the burnt house from which they saved an elderly woman and her two dogs. (Jonathan Burton, The Witness)

Terrel Gouws, Luke Pieterse and Calvin Scannell walk through the burnt house from which they saved an elderly woman and her two dogs. (Jonathan Burton, The Witness)

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Thobani Ngqulunga, The Witness

Pietermaritzburg – Three courageous high school pupils have been hailed as heroes for braving an inferno to rescue a stricken 83-year-old woman and her two dogs just seconds before the roof of her home collapsed.

Pietermaritzburg resident Louisa Boshoff, 83, was taking an afternoon nap when she awoke to find her Montrose simplex on fire.

She ran out and screamed for help for about 10 minutes before Carter High School Grade 12 pupils Terrel Gouws, who turns 17 on Wednesday, Calvin Scannell, 18, and Luke Pieterse, 18, came to her rescue.

Pieterse said he and his friends were driving past at around 15:00 on Friday when they saw the fire. “We drove past then decided to do a U-turn and drove into her driveway,” he said.

Toxic fumes

Terrel said their first thought was for Boshoff’s safety, but then realised that her dogs were also trapped inside the burning house.

“We agreed that we were not going to leave them to burn because we love dogs so much. When Mrs Boshoff saw us, she ran back into the house and we ran after her,” he said.

Pieterse said when they got inside the house, they realised that they were inhaling toxic fumes from the smoke.

“We decided to leave the house and go outside, where we took off our shirts because we were still in school uniform, and we covered our mouths and noses to avoid inhaling more toxic fumes,” he said.

“We crawled back inside the house because we could find our way better like that and the smoke was less concentrated on the ground, and then helped carry the lady out.”

Boshoff had been slightly scorched by the flames and seemed to have been overcome by the smoke.


With Boshoff safely out of harm’s way, they went back into the house to rescue her dogs.

This, however, proved difficult because the fire had engulfed the house by then, but they were resolved they could not leave without saving the dogs, who recovered well after their ordeal.

“When I saw Mrs Boshoff screaming, all I wanted to do was to help her. At the time, I did not think about myself, so the adrenaline kicked in. We seemed to know pretty much what we were doing because we were determined to save their lives, but it only dawned on us later how much we had placed our lives in danger. About 30 seconds after we rescued the dogs, the roof collapsed,” said Pieterse.

Scannell said he just wanted to help Boshoff out of the house “because I was afraid that because the kitchen was on fire, something might explode as the windows were already shattered”.

“I was not scared because we needed to help this lady.”

Terrel said, “I just thought we needed to do our best to ensure the safety of everyone who was inside the house. I also knew it was up to us to do so because we were the only ones there, so we needed to do our best.”


Thinking about their safety was far from their minds - “It was not about us”.

Terrel said their lungs were still sore on Monday when they inhaled deeply.

The three boys unanimously said they had learnt that one does not always think about oneself if an opportunity presents itself to help, but one just acts instinctively.

A proud Pieterse said on Monday the school applauded them and “everyone was calling us heroes, but that’s not why we did it”.

Carter High marketing manager Jenny Rogers said the boys were presented with community service awards at a special assembly to acknowledge their heroic efforts, and to encourage others to follow suit.

Boshoff’s son and daughter-in-law David and Colleen Boshoff on Monday expressed their gratitude to the boys.

“My mother-in-law is recovering well in Daymed Hospital after the incident and we have been able to find her other accommodation.

“We have been very blessed and we are grateful there are still heroes,” said Colleen.

Phone first, says fire service

Msunduzi Fire Operations Manager Essack Khan said people should phone them directly to avoid delays or placing their lives in danger by trying to put out a fire alone.

He said the boys had done well, but they should rather call them in future because more people die as a result of inhaling toxic fumes than from burns.

“We don’t encourage what they did even though it helped save lives, because they placed themselves in great danger,” he said.

Khan said people caught in a building fire should crawl because cool air sinks and warm air rises, and this would help people find their way out of the burning area.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  fires  |  good news

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