Fire in Bonteheuwel forces extended family with 15 children into one-bedroom house

Residents of Bonteheuwel in Cape Town are dealing with a trauma all too familiar during September after the fourth fire in recent weeks ripped through four Wendy houses, affecting 19 people, 15 of them 15 children.

On Wednesday morning, Nicolene November woke up early to read her Bible, and after dozing off, was woken by knocking, crying and screaming at her back door.

“I rushed to the door to see one Wendy [house] was burning, everyone rushed inside and fortunately, all the children were safe. Then the fire jumped to the other Wendys,” November said.

Four Wendy houses in the small backyard were occupied by November’s two daughters, two other female relatives and their families.

One of the victims, 21-year-old Tiyana George, said the fire was caused by a fault in the electrical box in the main house, which also provided power to the four Wendy houses. The fire broke out at 4:30 am and was only fully extinguished at about 8am.

“Four fire engines were needed and reinforcement was also called in,” George said.

“The flames were so big, it was higher than the roof,” added one of the several children huddled around November.

“They don’t know where they are going to sleep, as there might be space in the living room. But there is only one mattress with no bedding, as it was all destroyed in the fire,” November said.

The gutting of the Wendy houses means that about 25 people will have to squeeze into the one-bedroomed main house where November and her husband have been living for decades. 

The four women who lost their homes are unemployed, with no spouses to support them and their children. The only steady income they get is the R460 child support grant disbursed by the government.

Together the four women have 15 children, the majority aged below 10 years. The youngest is one-year-old Mason. 

George said she has three children under her care, including the two offspring of her brother who is in prison for gang-related offences.

“He is not part of a gang anymore; he has left that behind,” George added.

Angus McKenzie, a ward councillor in Bonteheuwel, expressed his sorrow over yet another fire in the area.

“Another devastating house fire in Bonteheuwel has destroyed everything in its path. Thankfully there was no loss of life,” he said.

He said there had been eight fire incidents in his ward since the start of 2021, but fortunately, no fatalities have been reported. 

Community Policing Forum member Charmaine Daniels, who also runs a feeding scheme from her house, is all too familiar with incidents of fires leaving multiple victims virtually homeless. 

“When I see there’s been a fire, I make my way to the people, and I will phone around for clothes or anything [they might need],” Daniels said.

By midday on Wednesday, hours after the fire, donations from local faith-based organisations, including the Salvation Army, and the police had come to ease some of the devastation of the latest fire victims.

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Eunice Stoltz
Eunice Stoltz is a general news reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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