‘I was hysterical’ – tenant who watched house go up in flames with pets still inside
"My neighbour saved my life. If I was not having a cup of coffee with her‚ I would have been dead."
These were the chilling words of Lisa Mary Clarke on Tuesday as she recalled how several hours earlier she had fled from her rented house as it was engulfed by flames.
The house in Blairgowrie‚ Johannesburg‚ burnt ferociously on Monday night with two tenants‚ seven dogs‚ three cats and a parrot inside.
Clarke was having coffee with her “neighbour”‚ Yulalia Mari De Witt‚ who is also a tenant in the house‚ when they heard a loud bang.
"We were having coffee. We heard something explode. She told me not to react. We thought someone was breaking in. She ran out of the house and went to look through my windows and she just saw flames."
The two tried to call emergency services as the fire started spreading. De Witt tried to rescue the animals and blacked out.
"Luckily someone dragged her out. The house was filled with smoke. I was shaking‚” said Clarke. "I was running up and down the street. I was hysterical. I was worried about my puppies."
Clarke said she had previously had problems with her geyser‚ which had burst‚ and suspected the fire may have originated there.
Clarke and De Witt said they informed their landlord about the fire. He called and apologised but told them he was not liable for any damages.
The visibly shaken tenants said they would seek legal advice on what their next course of action should be.
"I told him [the landlord] I would have been dead if I was not having a cup of coffee. My room was in flames‚" Clarke said.
The two expressed their heartfelt gratitude to the Blairgowrie community which arrived swiftly to help when the fire broke out.
"The community helped us a lot. They carried our cars out because the keys had been burnt‚" said Clarke.
"It's not about the things we have lost. It's about the trauma that is going to stay with us for the rest of our lives‚" she added.
When TimesLIVE visited the house‚ it was completely gutted.
Clarke's sister‚ Celest‚ and her father‚ Colin Clarke‚ were collecting items that could be salvaged. Clarke said the cats were still missing while the dogs were being cared for by neighbours.
The landlord did not respond immediately to calls and messages seeking comment.