4 kids, 3 adults die in shack fires

SEVEN people died, five from one family, in shack fires across Gauteng at the weekend.

Yesterday morning, three children aged two, seven and nine were burnt to death with their parents when their home caught fire in Meyerton, Vereeniging.

In Alexandra, one person died and 70 others were left homeless after a shack fire broke out at 6th Avenue early yesterday morning.

The fire was allegedly started by one of the residents who had left a primus stove burning in his shack.

Emergency Rescue Services spokesperson Percy Morokane said the man, in his late 20s, had since fled the area. "Exactly two weeks ago a similar incident took place in another avenue. A woman died and 29 shacks were destroyed," he said.

Morokane said most fires occur during the winter period when people are trying to keep warm. He also pointed out that alcohol abuse, human error and illegal electricity connection were some of the causes of the problem.

"It has become a pattern that almost all fires occur after midnight. People go out to drink all night. When they come back home, it's either they want to warm the shack or prepare a meal before they sleep," he said.

"The material used to build the shacks is itself a source of these fires - it burns rapidly," he said.

He said fortunately the number of incidents has decreased compared to last year. "Incidents seem to have decreased but winter is not over yet, we could see more fires in August as it is a windy month," he said.

The Johannesburg Disaster Management yesterday gave out blankets, clothing and food parcels to the victims.

On Friday afternoon, yet another child died in a shack fire in Sophia Extension 4 informal settlement in Tembisa.

Jermina Sithole, 6, had just returned from pre-school when the shack she called home caught fire while she was asleep. Her grandmother, Rose Sambo, said she found out about her granddaughter's fate while on her way home. "I was walking home from a long day of looking for work when two children ran up to me and said my shack was on fire.

"I immediately asked where Jermina was, and they told me she was sleeping inside."

Sambo said she found neighbours gathered outside the burning shack trying to put out the fire, but it was too late.

Rabie Ridge police spokesperson Warrant Officer Frans Rapetsoa said no foul play was suspected. He said, however, that one of the children may have unintentionally started the fire.

"We suspect that one of the children may have lit a candle, but investigations are still ongoing to determine what caused the fire," Rapetsoa said.

Meanwhile, neighbours have allowed Sambo and her remaining granddaughter, Ntshuxeko Sithole, 4, to live in their backyard while a new shack is erected.

Ekurhuleni officials are said to have offered to bury Jermina.