Hundreds of residents at Kya Sands informal settlement, north of Johannesburg, watched in despair as their shacks were ravaged by fire yesterday.
The inferno broke out at about 10am and razed more than 200 shacks built on the embankment of a small stream coming from the industrial plants in the area.
Residents ran with whatever they could salvage to a nearby hill where they watched firefighters battling to extinguish the blaze.
"I only thought of my children when I heard someone screaming there was fire," said Surprise Chauke.
Chauke the mother two babies - 18 and one-month-old - said she would sleep in the open veld if they did not get accommodation.
Pat Cass, station commander at Hunter's Hill fire station, said rescuers experienced problems reaching the burning shacks because they were situated behind factories.
"It was difficult to gain access to them and we spent most of the time figuring out how to get there," said Cass.
He said it was not clear what caused the it but fire experts were at the scene investigating the cause.
But some residents claimed that the fire was caused by someone who made fire next to his shack for cooking.
They said he fled because angry residents wanted to beat him up.
Simon Ntshingila, a residents' committee member, said they would register all the people whose shacks were burnt and try to get help for them.
"We will ensure that we organise accommodation and food for the victims," Ntshingila said.