'I heard them screaming for help': shack fire kills four in Port Elizabeth

Four people lost their lives when a shack went up in flames in Port Elizabeth on Tuesday. File photo.
Four people lost their lives when a shack went up in flames in Port Elizabeth on Tuesday. File photo.
Image: 123RF/Thuansak Srilao

"I heard them screaming for help, but we could not get to them."

These were the words of a traumatised resident who witnessed four people - two of them children - being burnt alive in a shack fire in Malabar's Extension 6 informal settlement in Port Elizabeth on Tuesday morning.

Luchnene Crotz, 33, and her eight-year-old son Dwayne were killed in the fire, together with Luchnene's sister Keisha Dolf, 13.

At the time of the fire, Luchnene's best friend Leana Leslie, 17, was also in the house.

The fire started about 6am and was mostly extinguished by residents who ran back and forth with buckets of water from a tap about 50m away.

Firefighters arrived a short while after the police and extinguished the remaining flames.

Visibly traumatised residents and relatives stood around crying while police removed the bodies and combed through the smouldering ashes for clues.

Leana’s mother Faith Leslie, 49, stood crying as she watched police scour through the scene. She lives about 30m away.

"I was sleeping and heard screaming, but I thought someone was being robbed. I did not think much of it and only went to look when I heard a commotion outside and other people screaming for help.

"As I walked outside, I saw the flames and ran to the house. I heard them screaming for help, but everything we did failed to work. People were shouting, 'Bring water! Bring water!'" she said, breaking down in tears.

"She was my child and everyone loved her so much. I do not know how this could happen to us."

Faith said Leana often stayed at Luchnene's house as they were best friends.

Dwayne’s father Preston Wenzle, 37, said he left the house at about 5.40am and woke them up to lock the security gate as he left. He works as a taxi conductor.

"I was at work when people in the taxi told me to get home as there was a fire. I got back as fast as possible and the place was still on fire," he said.

"Why did this happen to me? I do not understand. When I left, they were awake. I do not understand how this could happen."

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