A Mitchells Plain father heard anguished screams as he desperately scrambled around his burning home on Saturday when a fire ripped through it, killing eight people, including his three youngest children and three grandchildren.
Eventually the smoke was so thick that Patrick Abrahams, 54, of Eastridge, had to abandon attempts to save his loved ones.
“There were flames everywhere… I’m shaking right now as I stand here. I just can’t comprehend things,” he told Weekend Argus on Saturday.
Abrahams spoke metres from his blackened, cordoned-off home which just three hours earlier had been gutted.
His trembling hands were covered with soot and friends stood around him, patting his arms reassuringly.
Three of Abrahams’s children, Nikita, 3, Joshua, 13, and Kyle, 18, were killed in the fire.
His son-in-law Alfonso Swarts, 30, as well as his grandchildren, Tamia Swarts, 18 months, Elmarie Swarts, 6, and Cameron Swarts, 7, also died, along with a family friend, Arafat Madat, 14.
There were unconfirmed reports that a ninth person had died, but Abrahams was unaware of this. “Two of my daughters are still in hospital. That’s what I know,” he said.
Five people, one of them pregnant, were hospitalised as a result of the blaze.
The fire broke out on Saturday at 8.10am in the main section of Abrahams’s home, which is joined to a Wendy house. Most of those inside were asleep at the time.
“I’m not sure what actually happened. I was sleeping when my sister’s son came to knock on the bedroom door because the electricity went off. They live in the Wendy house,” he said.
“He screamed… I heard screaming. When I got up I realised there was a fire. We were all struggling… We were just struggling.”
Abrahams paused often as he spoke.
“My three children died. My youngest. They died.”
Those standing around him urged him to go to a doctor as they were worried he was suffering from shock.
“I’m fine,” he insisted, staring at his charred home.
Eventually he agreed to leave the scene.
On Saturday, President Jacob Zuma said in a statement: “I am deeply saddened and shocked by this tragedy that has befallen the community of Mitchells Plain.
“I wish to extend my condolences and those of the whole government to the families and relatives of the deceased during this difficult time.”
As firefighters and police officers, some dressed in blue plastic suits and wearing breathing masks, moved through the burnt house, other friends and relatives arrived.
A family friend and neighbour, who declined to be named, said before emergency services arrived, residents had desperately tried to extinguish the fire.
“We used hose pipes and buckets, but it was too big for us. It’s so sad because just (Friday afternoon) we saw the children playing outside. They were so happy.”
Police spokesman Captain Frederick van Wyk said circumstances around the outbreak of the fire were being investigated.
He said three of the children caught in the fire had died in an ambulance as paramedics were trying to resuscitate them.
Another had died on the way to hospital.
“We still have to determine how many people were in the house,” Van Wyk said.
City fire and rescue spokeswoman Liezl Moodie said the cause of the fire was yet to be established and forensic experts were investigating.[Source: Weekend Argus]