Heated exchange as Knysna homeowner gets attempted burglar to battle blaze

2017-06-12 17:06
A house burnt out in Knysna. (James de Villiers, News24)

A house burnt out in Knysna. (James de Villiers, News24)

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Knysna - A Knysna resident, desperate to save his home from fast-approaching flames, stopped an apparent burglar from entering and possibly looting it and offered the man money to help him battle the blaze.

The almost burglar, who wanted a bicycle or a television, then had to put up with a lot more than he had bargained for.

Homeowner Kallie Esterhuizen and the man ended up fighting the fire together.

Together they managed to prevent flames from spreading to his home.

Esterhuizen recalls that last Wednesday evening while he was in his house doing work, he heard a loud commotion and screaming.

When he went to investigate, he realised a raging fire had surrounded, and was nearing his neighbourhood and house.

“The flames were everywhere, they shot up at a hell of a speed,” said Esterhuizen.

He had not heard calls to evacuate the area and kept wetting the bushes near his house, as well as the roof and the side of the house where the flames were closest.

"Then I got overwhelmed by the heat, and the flames were on the house.”

He grabbed his cat and laptop, jumped into his car and sped down a hill through flames and smoke.

‘It was Armageddon’

After composing himself and regaining his energy as he felt very faint from inhaling smoke, Esterhuizen decided to go back home to continue fighting the fire.

People tried to stop him, but their pleas were in vain.  

Once he got back to the hill where his home is, the nearby blazes had become much worse.

“Fires were raging, it was Armageddon, it was raining fire from the sky.”

With his house still intact, he jumped out of the car, grabbed a hosepipe and continued fighting the fire.

A man had then come running down the driveway and tried going through the front door of Esterhuizen's home.

Hosepipe in hand, fighting the fire, he turned and shouted at the man.

 “Hey what are you doing?" he had asked.

“He looked at me and said he wants the bicycle.”

Esterhuizen told the man that he did not have a bicycle and said that he should help him fight the fire.

He noted that both he and the would-be burglar were suffering from the heat from the intense flames.

“Come and help me,” Esterhuizen pleaded.

‘Battered and blistered’

The would-be burglar, who had a bag full of items that he may have looted from other houses, then demanded Esterhuizen give him the television.

Esterhuizen wondered how the man, who he estimated was no older than 25-years-old, would manage to run down a hill through flames, all while carrying a television.

“Forget the TV and bicycle, I will give you money,” Esterhuizen told him.

As the argument between the two ensued, the rest of the suburb had been evacuated with the fire spreading to homes in the area.

“I said I’ll give him R1 000.”

Esterhuizen and the would-be burglar then ended up fighting the blaze together, even on the side of the house that was too hot for Esterhuizen to handle.

While they worked, the would-be burglar intermittently asked Esterhuizen about his firefighting fee.

At one point the garden shed caught fire.

“I can’t believe that he kept asking for money in that chaos," Esterhuizen said.

He said he became friends with the man in a moment while the two of them were fighting the fire, battered and blistered from the heat and chests heaving from the smoke.

“As the fire subsided, his nose was bleeding and his eyes swollen shut, so I put him in the car with me and we went to town.”

“I felt very sorry for him, he took a lot of heat.”

No place to call home

Esterhuizen gave the man R600 cash.

When the would-be burglar asked about the rest, they went off and managed to find a working ATM at 02:00, where he drew a further R500 to pay the man.

He described the man as looking as if he may have been a vagrant.

Esterhuizen also gave the man a pair of shoes as he said his feet were burning.

While getting to know him, Esterhuizen said the man was not worried about the fire destroying his home as the man didn’t have one of his own and was staying with other people.

Esterhuizen was grateful for the man's help and said it was their joint effort that prevented his house from burning.

But he said he was under no impression that it was a kind gesture and rather that the attempted burglar did it for the money.

This did not stop Esterhuizen from saying that he would probably invite the man over for coffee if he ever saw him again.  

The Knysna fires, sparked by storm winds, have claimed the lives of seven people, including a firefighter and four-year-old child.

More than 10 000 people were evacuated as the fires destroyed homes, structures and power and communication lines.

With the help of 1 106 firefighters, all the blazes have been contained.


Read more on:    knysna fires  |  fires

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