Cops probe cause of deadly fire at retirement home

Forensic experts on Tuesday combed through a burnt-down retirement home looking for clues as to what started a blaze that killed 18 people and left 84 homeless.

“It’s too early to tell [the cause of fire], the forensic team is still on the scene. They should be finishing up today [collecting evidence],” said Nigel police spokesperson Tommy Tomlinson.

He said pathologists would on Tuesday begin identifying the dead bodies through DNA testing.

“Identification is going to be delayed,” he said. “Most of the bodies were burnt beyond recognition, making identification process difficult.”

The fire erupted late on Sunday and gutted the Pieter Wessels home for the elderly in Nigel, on the south-eastern outskirts of Johannesburg.

Rescue workers and nurses carried residents out of the building, pulled them through windows and dragged them out on mattresses as flames jumped 1m above the roof.

Seventeen people burned to death, while a woman died of a heart attack after being rescued. A man who sustained burns was airlifted to hospital while two others were seriously injured.

Survivors were taken to retirement homes in neighbouring communities.

The fire gutted the building, leaving its outer walls charred.

President Jacob Zuma on Monday expressed his condolences and said the incident “should be used to improve care and support to older persons in our retirement homes”.

The last major deadly fire in South Africa was on February 9, when 13 children and two adults died in a blaze at an orphanage. — AFP

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