Three die as fire ‘from hell’ sweeps village

  Three die as fire ‘from hell’ sweeps village

1 September 2009

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South Africa — A wildfire raced across the veld, claiming the lives of three women and leaving five more seriously injured over the weekend.

Among the dead at Bhukwini village, near Libode, was the widowed mother of three children aged 12, eight and four.

All the victims were fighting the fire when they were overcome by smoke and heat.

Community leaders described the fire yesterday as a “hellfire” that was bent on engulfing the community, with flames moving at a very high speed, fanned by strong winds .

“This was a very vicious fire; it was terrible, a scary sight – like something from hell” said Xolile Dlani, who is Ward 18 councillor in the Nyandeni Municipally.

He said the villagers battled for hours fighting the fire, which had started in the valley but moved up into the village, leaving a trail of destruction .

Further complicating matters was a lack of water, as residents use water from the streams and rivers.

“Since there is no water we used shrubs, trees and old rags to try to fight the fire, but we were outmatched and had to call firefighters from Libode and OR Tambo District Municipality in Mthatha to assist us,” said Dlani.

Killed were: Mamliseni Ntsunte, 57, Makhwetshube Mkhutshwa, 58, and Nolungile Tshaphe, 59.

“The fire was faster than they were; they apparently inhaled smoke and choked,” Dlani said.

He said they appeared to have collapsed and rolled down the slope into the oncoming flames.

The community had fought the fire since 1am on Saturday, and and only managed to bring it under control at about 6am yesterday.

The injured were Mamzameni Gobingca, 48, Mamcekiseni Ntsunte, 48, Zinqanda Khoboyi, 48, Nontlaza Timba, 59, and Mabhashe Xhapha, 46. Timba has been admitted to St Barnabas Hospital in Libode, while the four others were transferred to the Nelson Mandela Academic Hospital in Mthatha.

“One is in the intensive care unit, while two others are at the burns unit. They are in critical condition and have 70percent burn wounds,” said Sizwe Kupelo, provincial Health Department spokesperson, yesterday.

Zalisile Mqadi, who is a sub- headman, heard of the danger and immediately called Dlani. “We tried everything to fight the fire and used every drop of water we had. We even used our own clothes to fight the fire.”

Ntombekhaya Sibetha, 55, whose sister Mamliseni Ntsunte was one of the victims, said: “ Now I have no one.” Her sister’s rondavel was gutted.

About 300 villagers yesterday gathered at the traditional leader’s great place and were addressed by Nyandeni mayor Thoko Sokhanyile who handed out blankets, clothes and food, and OR Tambo mayor Zoleka Capa. The community also received counselling from church leaders.

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