Bedridden woman burnt to death in Cape Town house fire

2017-11-17 19:41

Cape Town – The tireless efforts of neighbours and passers-by to rescue a bedridden woman whose council flat was ablaze were not enough to save her from burning to death.

The charred remains of Catherine "Tietie" Edwards, 62, were removed from her home hours after her Manenberg home was gutted by fire on Thursday morning.

Witnesses say she appeared to have tried to escape as her body was found half off her bed.

The pensioner was bed-bound after suffering two strokes.

She had been home alone at the time the blaze broke out as the rest of her family had gone to work and taken their children to school.

Edwards' niece, Fernandy Smouse, said she had just started her day as a cleaner at Manenberg Primary School when she was told that her home was on fire.


Margaret Overmeyer with a charred photo of her sister, Catherine Edwards. (Tammy Petersen)

Shock, trauma

"I ran home and when I turned into my street I saw a crowd of people standing outside. Massive flames were coming from my aunt's bedroom window," she said.

"People were passing along buckets of water and someone stopped a water truck which had been driving past. I just stood there, shocked and traumatised".

She asked one of the men battling the blaze where Edwards was.

"He just told me she's gone," Smouse said.

Moejait Blankenberg, 23, was one of the first neighbours on the scene. He kicked down Edwards' front door when he saw the extent of the fire.

"I knew she wouldn't have been able to escape because she used to call me to carry her down the stairs. She couldn't get around on her own and used a wheelchair," he said.

"When we got the door open, thick black smoke came at us. The flames were raging. I wasn't able to make it to the room".

He stood on a neighbouring shack and used a hosepipe to spray water into Edwards' bedroom.

"But Tietie was already gone. I am glad I didn't look through the window and see her there. I wouldn't have been able to handle it".

'I am not ready to accept that she is gone'

The inferno destroyed the contents of the family's modest home.

On Friday, the frame of Edwards' wheelchair still stood next to where her bed used to be, with gaping holes in the roof and half-burnt medication littering the floor.

The household has been given temporary accommodation while they wait for their council flat to be repaired.

But Edwards' sister, Margaret Overmeyer, slept among the burnt pieces of furniture on Thursday night, refusing to leave the flat.

"This place is filled with memories of her, so it makes me feel better to be here. She went so suddenly and I'm not ready to accept that she is gone".

City of Cape Town fire services spokesperson Theo Layne confirmed that in addition to the flat, the contents of an informal dwelling were also destroyed.

Six people were displaced, he confirmed.

Two fire engines, a water tanker and a rescue vehicle responded to the blaze, with 14 firefighters on the ground.

The cause of the fire is currently undetermined.

Police spokesperson Captain FC van Wyk said no foul play was suspected.

An inquest docket has been opened.

Read more on:    cape town  |  fires

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