Woman burns in own restaurant: her “upper body was engulfed in flames”

2018-04-26 15:23
PHOTO: Facebook

PHOTO: Facebook

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It’s just after midday on a Sunday afternoon at a new restaurant in Bloemfontein.

A rush of people are clamouring to get to the table at a buffet lunch. Then suddenly a loud crack, followed by the sound of shards of glass falling to the floor.

When restaurant patrons looked up they saw the owner’s body engulfed in flames. “It was like a scene from a movie,” says Louis Barnard, a local dentist who was at the restaurant, about the moment he saw Annemarie Pitout.

Annemarie (49) was busy replacing the little candles which keep the buffet dishes warm with gel burners when one of the candles caught fire.

Some of the gel landed on Annemarie’s body and caused her clothes to also catch alight, says Kezandra Trytsman, her niece and one of the members of management at the restaurant, Annie’s Country Kitchen.

Apparently the gel left in the candle holder was still warm when Annemarie had tried to fill it.

She was admitted to Mediclinic Bloemfontein with 60% of her body burnt, from her neck to her lower back. She was still in the hospital’s intensive care unit at the time of going to press.

Firelighter gel was also the culprit in 2011 when two-year-old Pippie Kruger suffered third-degree burns on Christmas Eve when a bottle of the gel exploded in her father’s hands at a braai.

Pippie (now 8) has trudged a long road since her tragic accident, but for Annemarie, the road to recovery has only just begun.

Annemarie opened the restaurant, where the incident occurred, in January. It was her first business since she started working in the catering industry many years ago, says Kezandra. For Annemarie, who’s unmarried and childless, running her own restaurant has been a dream of hers for many years.

On Sunday 8 April Louis, his mother, Winnie, and his friend, Wyndham Ferreira, went to Annie’s Country Kitchen, in Preller Square, for the first time.

“After we heard how everyone praised the place, we needed to try it out,” says the dentist from the city of roses.

When they arrived at 12.30pm, the restaurant was relatively full and they sat down at a table out on the balcony. “Suddenly we heard a loud sound, glass breaking and people shouting,” he says. His first thought was that someone had fallen through a window and he ran inside.

“Then I saw Annemarie running out from behind the buffet table. Her entire upper body was engulfed in flames.”

Pandemonium broke out in the restaurants as other patrons also ran toward Annemarie to try and help put out the flames.

“There was no to time to think,” says Louis. “I instinctively ran towards her and pushed her to the ground.”

As a child he’d attended first aid classes held by his mother, a nurse. There he learnt that if your clothes are on fire you shouldn’t run, but fall flat on the ground and roll around. He took his bare hands and pressed Annemarie onto the floor.

While he held her there he tore her “crocheted top off her body”. Louis grabbed two jugs of milk from a nearby table and used them to put out the flames. He yelled for others to help by bringing ice and wet towels.

Everyone jumped in and helped. They pressed Annemarie’s hands into the ice and wrapped the wet towels around her until the ambulance arrived. Louis isn’t sure how long they waited for the ambulance but he thinks it could’ve been about 30 minutes.

Annemarie gained consciousness at some point during this time. Louis recalls seeing blood on the floor, she’d cut her foot on the broken glass – but he doesn’t remember where the broken glass came from.

Louis also suffered minor burns on his hands when he saved Annemarie from her fiery hell, but says his mother bandaged it up for him.

A spokesperson for Mediclinic, Barbara Steenkamp, confirmed that Annemarie had suffered 60% burns. They’ve already started the skin graft procedures, says Barabara. “Her condition is stable and she’s faring well. It’s impossible to say how long she’ll still need to be in isolation in the intensive care unit.”

Anicé Kruger, mother of burn victim Pippie, says she understands what Annemarie Pitout is going through.

Six years ago Pippie suffered 80% burns to her body when her father, Erwin, tried to revive a dying braai fire with firelighter gel and the bottle exploded in his hand.

Some of the gel flew onto Pippie who was standing 2m away.

“It’s a long road to recovery and you can’t think things are going to happen overnight. Especially now that she’s isolated in ICU, she probably feels so alone. But she needs to know in her heart that things are going to get better.” Anicé also says the itching can be bad when the wounds begin to heal.

“When Annemarie is released from hospital she must feel free to contact me for advice or support, any time,” says Anicé.

She says things are going well for Pippie. She receives treatment every second week at a rehabilitation centre in Johannesburg.


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