Fire kills 1, leaves 1 000 homeless in Cape Town informal settlement

A young man sits on corrugated iron sheeting and stares ahead. A fire tore through Masiphumelele on Monday morning. (Mary-Anne Gontsana, GroundUp)
A young man sits on corrugated iron sheeting and stares ahead. A fire tore through Masiphumelele on Monday morning. (Mary-Anne Gontsana, GroundUp)

One person has died and over a thousand others were left homeless after a fire swept through Masiphumelele's Wetland informal settlement in E-Section in the early hours of Monday morning, GroundUp reports.

The fire, said by residents to have been caused by a candle in one of the shacks, started at about midnight and was ultimately contained just after 05:00.

When GroundUp arrived on the scene, two fire trucks stood at one of the pathways to the informal settlement. There was a heavy smell of smoke and residents were rummaging through the debris, some hammering corrugated iron sheets to re-use, while others were sitting around looking lost.

For Vivian Zenzile, this was the third time she had lost her shack and belongings to a fire since she moved to E-Section in 2006.

"I have lost everything: my house, my clothes, ID documents, my children's school uniforms, school books. I am left with nothing," she said. "I heard my neighbour screaming that there was a fire. When we went outside, the shack right next to me, where the fire started, was ablaze. We tried to stop it but with the wind it was just too much. That fire was too strong even for the firefighters."

Another resident who also lost everything in the fire, Zimkhitha Simama, said she had no idea where and how she would start getting her life together again. "We tried to put the fire out by collecting water from a nearby stream and the little that came out of the tap, but it was just not enough. Even when the firefighters arrived, they were battling."

The spokesperson for City Fire and Rescue, Jermaine Carelse, said the first response consisted of five firefighting appliances, a rescue vehicle, and 21 staff members.

"When the first officer arrived on the scene he made a quick assessment and called upon more resources, which resulted in two divisions being set up, with 18 firefighting appliances, two rescue vehicles and 79 staff battling the blaze. One adult male was treated for heat exposure by the Metro ambulance staff. Three firefighters were hospitalised as a result of various injuries sustained during the incident."

Carelse said while busy with mopping-up operations, a body was found underneath corrugated iron sheeting, adding the person's gender could not be determined.

The spokesperson for the City's Disaster Risk Management Centre, Charlotte Powell, said the blaze had destroyed 256 structures, leaving 1 280 people affected.

"The Masiphumelele Community Hall and Methodist Church in Myeza Road were opened for emergency shelter. The Disaster Risk Management Centre has informed Sassa to provide humanitarian relief. Informal settlement management will provide starter kits for residents once the solid waste department has removed all the fire debris."

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