The fire this time

2019-12-09 09:21
Delisiwe Mtolo collects whatever she can salvage of her belongings in the rubble that remained after the Jika Joe shack fire.

Delisiwe Mtolo collects whatever she can salvage of her belongings in the rubble that remained after the Jika Joe shack fire. (NASH NARRANDES)

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A fight between a sex worker and her client, a fallen candle, a raging fire: this tragic sequence of events on Saturday night razed 108 shacks in Jika Joe settlement in the city, leaving over 200 people homeless as Christmas approaches.

On Sunday morning residents were busy picking up pieces of their burnt belongings and preparing to rebuild their lives once again.

Bheki Dladla, chairperson of the community committee, told The Witness that the fire started around 9 pm when a fight broke out between a sex worker staying in one of the shacks and a client.

“Apparently the client wanted to steal the woman’s shoes and cellphones so a squabble broke out and they knocked a candle over, starting the fire,” he said.

Khumbulani Gamede, also a member of the community committee, said over 200 people were left homeless after 108 shacks were destroyed by the fire.

Dladla told The Witness on Sunday that firefighters from the Pietermaritzburg fire department were at the scene 30 minutes after the fire broke out but it took them the whole night to extinguish the blaze.

“There were four fire tankers here, but they kept on running out of water and eventually connected their hose to the fire hydrant across the street.

“They couldn’t contain the fire properly because they didn’t have enough water and the fire kept on spreading. They eventually extinguished it around 3 am this morning [yesterday],” said Dladla.

He said most of the affected people were taken to the community hall on East Street by Msunduzi’s Disaster Management teams.

“They were told that they can only stay there for two days.

“So right now other community members are removing the burnt rubble so that people can start rebuilding again,” said Dladla.

Jika Joe residents were hard at work on Sunday morning trying to rebuild their shacks.

Gamede said Disaster Management did not have tents or blankets for the displaced families.

“We are appealing to the public and local businesses who can help to please assist with whatever they can. There are people who were left with nothing but the clothes on their back. We would also appreciate any building material that we can use to help those who lost their homes rebuild,” he said.

Phakamani Gcuma, one of the residents who lost his shack, told The Witness that he was at work when the fire started.

“I saw the smoke from a distance and had to run to check my house. When I got here, part of my shack was already on fire but I managed to get my work uniform and some clothes [out] but most of my belongings were destroyed in the fire,” he said.

Gcuma showed The Witness the place where his shack once stood, now reduced to ashes.

Delisiwe Mtolo and Fundokwakhe Mncube, who were seen busy rebuilding their home yesterday morning, said they can’t even recall how many times they have had to rebuild their home after it had been damaged in a fire or during heavy rains.

“We have to rebuild after heavy rains and after fires, we’re always rebuilding. Right now we have to move fast and make sure that the roof is up in case it rains later tonight,” Mtolo said.

Soft, steady rain fell in the area from late afternoon.

KZN’s acting premier Ravi Pillay visited the scene yesterday and expressed his sadness, noting that KZN is still recovering from the inclement weather conditions that devastated the province in October and November.

“We are saddened by what we see before us today and we feel for the families that had to go through the traumatic experience of losing their belongings.

“We are thankful to the Almighty that there were no injuries or deaths in this fire,” said Pillay.

He said acting Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs MEC Peggy Nkonyeni has been deployed to co-ordinate “the provision of relief that will be provided by the relevant provincial departments”.

A fire department officer told The Witness on Sunday that the fire had flared up again in the morning and firefighters had to go back at 6 am and were done extinguishing again by 8 am.

The officer said the firefighters who had attended the Jika Joe fire were not available to comment as they were not on day duty on Sunday.


Read more on:    pietermaritzburg
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