Community unites

Fire tore through several houses and backyard dwellings in the early hours on Monday 2 November, and the effects are still being felt by fire victims.PHOTO: Racine Edwardes
Fire tore through several houses and backyard dwellings in the early hours on Monday 2 November, and the effects are still being felt by fire victims.PHOTO: Racine Edwardes

A fire that broke out in the early hours of Monday 2 November in Lavender Hill has left 18 people homeless and affected many more.

Fortunately, residents say, the response from locals, non-profit organisations, feeding schemes and other community structures was all they could hope for.

Sgt Wesley Twigg, spokesperson for the Steenberg police station, confirms there was a fire in the Wicht Court flats on Wicht Street.

“The cause of the fire is unknown at this stage. (The City’s) fire and rescue (services) will conduct a preliminary investigation, but no foul play is suspected at this stage,” he says.

Jermaine Carelse, spokesperson for the fire and rescue service, says they received an emergency call at 02:24 on Monday morning of informal structures burning in Wicht Court, Lavender Hill.

He confirms fire crews from Lakeside, Ottery, Constantia and Fish Hoek were dispatched to the scene.

“Eight informal structures and two vehicles were destroyed in the fire. A flat on the first floor sustained damages when the heat of the fire cracked the window and the flames made its way into the flat, while a flat on the second floor also sustained some damages,” Carelse says in a statement.

Community leader Adele Campbell, who lives in the unaffected Wicht block, says the people affected in the fire include an 80-year-old woman who lives alone and a child who is just one. She says the community jumped in to help as soon as they were woken by the commotion.

“The tenants of the flat, especially the young boys, really just grabbed things and assisted the Wicht Court committee,” she explains.

One of the committee members, Ursula Kruger, says on the night she had no time to think, only time to react because it all happened so quickly.

“I can’t say what happened at the back (where the fire started), I just helped to carry things out and helped where I could. The fire was very intense. I can’t explain what it was like, we just had to help the old lady. I can understand why the people are traumatised, because it was a traumatising experience.”

Kashiefa Petersen, a tenant of one of the affected units on the ground floor, says it was her late father’s car and one of her feeding scheme vehicles that were burnt up in the blaze. Standing in her home with the walls and ceiling covered with smoke damage, she told People’s Post: “I’m still scared to sleep. I cannot sleep, I’m too afraid; and the smoke is still in the house – and it’s not good for the little one.”

Kruger says the committee has been doing whatever it can to assist tenants like Petersen, by providing support, bringing them meals and more.

The Greater Retreat Community Action Network (Can) and the Cape Flats Development Association (Cafda) have come to the aid of the fire victims by taking in donations for them. Campbell adds that Gift of the Givers have done their part to provide relief, in addition to the New World Foundation.

She adds: “The response from the people was awesome. They really gave out of their hearts. There was a gentleman in Lansdowne who gave things, disaster risk management, Rondevlei Soup Kitchen, so our neighbouring organisations assisted – even in our flats, a lady gave some of her crockery.”

Campbell was in touch with the Department of Social Development to organise counselling for the fire victims, various organisations to aid relief and the City to organise shipping containers to be delivered to the building yesterday, on Monday 9 November.

Petersen says she’s thankful for the way the community has rallied behind them.

“We just want to say thank you to the committee with the help we got so far. They assisted us from the beginning and we appreciate it – and all the people who have come to assist from the outside.”

  • To assist the victims of the fire, contact Adele on 063 396 5243.

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