Escape from breakaway fire

Msunduzi workers have been blamed for losing control of a grass fire that spread in the gusty conditions on Wednesday, gutting a heritage site on Pent­rich Road in Camps Drift on Wednesday.

City workers were allegedly clearing overgrown bush and grass outside the property by setting fire to it. But aided by the strong winds, the fire spread to a tree on the property and then jumped into the house.

The property was until last Saturday home to a family of three, who were on Wednesday removing their last belongings from it.

Sanette Els, who lived on the property with her husband, Paul, and brother, Anton Steyn, and their three dogs for 18 years, said she was counting her blessings that most of their belongings were removed from the house before the fire.

The family were served with a notice to leave the property, located near a railway line, a week ago.

They had returned on Wednesday to fetch a giant fish tank, tools and cupboard fittings — all of which were destroyed in the fire.

A car parked outside the house, which was being worked on by Paul, was also burnt to cinders.

No one was at home when the fire began to rage. “We came yesterday [Wednesday] morning to fetch our last belongings,” Sanette told The Witness at the scene on Wednesday.

“We noticed them [workers] setting the fire outside the house and a friend of ours had told them to watch the fire [closely] because the weather meant it could get out of control.

“We had left for lunch, and suddenly my husband got a call from a business across the road from the house telling us the house was on fire.”

The Witness’ conversation with the family was frequently interrupted by blazes outside the house re-igniting in the strong winds and the family and firefighters frantically trying to put them out.

Sanette Els holds up the remains of a pet bag, next to a destroyed fish tank, which was burned in the fire. 

A fire truck had to return after leaving the scene to put out fires that re-ignited.

At one point, members of the family pushed a car to the other side of the yard when a bush near the car began burning.

“I’m wrecked,” Sanette said. “My nerves are wrecked. The fire just jumped from outside to here. I don’t know what to say.”

She said the family moved to a farm in Baynesfield on Saturday.

Craig February, a station commander at Msunduzi Fire, said firefighters responded with two trucks.

“It took us about 30 minutes to extinguish. The house was on fire when we got there … and there was no one at home at the time.

“A bush was burning outside, and it lost control and [the fire] jumped into the yard. It spread up a tree, then into the roof, then down into the building,” he said.

Msunduzi spokesperson Thobeka Mafumbatha, in reply to inquiries by The Witness, said the municipality has no information indicating the fire was started by its workers.

“Msunduzi Emergency Control Centre received a call about a house that was alight. The call came from the SAPS. A vehicle was despatched, the officials attended the fire,” she said.

“We have no information which indicates that the fire was started by Msunduzi workers as we have a controlled system that we apply if we need to burn.”

Amafa KwaZulu-Natal was not immediately able to provide details on the property as a heritage site.

KZN Operations manager for the Fire Protection Association of South Africa Simon Thomas warned people not to start fires they can’t control.

“Don’t become complacent just because it’s Spring. We haven’t had rain for weeks.

“We had extremely high-risk fire conditions [on Wednesday]. My advice would be people shouldn’t start fires they can’t put out.

“The only fires that should be lit in these conditions are block fires, which are farmland fires.”