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Cape Town officials deny claims of too little water to fight a Boxing Day blaze

About 300 people were left homeless after the blaze tore through 150 shacks in Valhalla Park.
About 300 people were left homeless after the blaze tore through 150 shacks in Valhalla Park.
Image: STOCK

Residents of an informal settlement in drought-stricken Cape Town that burnt to the ground on Tuesday claim the fire could have been extinguished sooner if there had been enough water.

About 300 people were left homeless after the blaze tore through 150 shacks in Valhalla Park.

Although city officials denied the allegations‚ Delmaine Cottee‚ the ANC councillor in the area‚ said people had maintained that fire trucks were ''half empty''.

"People are very angry‚'' said Cottee. "They said there was not sufficient water.''

Cape Town is experiencing its worst drought in more than 100 years.

Cottee also said neighbours could not use their hose pipes to douse flames while waiting for fire-fighters because water pressure had been reduced.

He added that fire hydrants close to the area had been vandalised and could not be used.

But Theo Layne‚ Cape Town fire and rescue services spokesperson‚ said eight fire engines and five full water tankers - which equates to more than 50 000 litres - were sent to the informal settlement in Valhalla Park.

Layne also explained: "Water pressure reduction is essential at this stage of the drought that we are experiencing and it means that the fire service has to request and respond with more vehicles than is required to extinguish fire.''

The fire‚ he said‚ was possibly started due to negligence‚ for example when someone left a 'cooking device unattended. And the flames were fanned by strong wind.

Layne called on residents to report vandalism of fire hydrants.

Cottee said crime and gangsterism is rife in the area and metal theft is a big concern.

"People steal cables and will start a fire to melt down the plastic to get to the copper. They then sell it at illegal pawn shops. They even sell drain covers and gates‚'' said Cottee who expressed concern that the area could not be cleared by authorities on Tuesday.

He said people have collected all the metal‚ which had been used to construct their shacks‚ and will sell it on Wednesday to scrap metal dealers. The money is often used to buy food or to replace essential items lost in the fire.

Ultimately‚ he said‚ people need proper housing but this is not easy to achieve.

Earlier this year‚ Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille revealed that the construction of homes in the area was stopped because gangsters threatened the builders.

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