Screaming victims die in shack fire
“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 on Tuesday morning.
Luchnene Crotz, 33, and her son Dwayne, 8, were killed inside 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 at about 6am and was mostly extinguished by residents who ran back and forth with buckets of water from a nearby 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 combed through the smouldering ashes looking for clues and removing the bodies.
Leana’s mother, Faith Leslie, 49, stood crying as she watched police scoured through the scene.
Faith lives about 30m from the tragic scene.
“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.
Wenzle 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 and I do not understand how this could happen.”
Four people, two of them children, died in a shack fire in Malabar's Extension 6 informal settlement.
Neighbour Raymond Daniels, 53, whose shack is about 5m away said he was awake at the time of the fire and went outside when he heard crying and screaming.
“As I walked out of the house, I was actually pushed back by the flames and smoke. I called for help and everyone ran to assist.
“I managed to get the door open but flames and smoke just came out. We tried everything, used spades and crowbars to get the security door open but it did not work. The flames were huge, we could not get them out,” he said.
“Several people tried to kick the shack and break it but the whole shack was covered in flames.”
Another resident, Sherfago Booysen, 14, who lives close by, said he was among those who ran to help.
“I heard the screaming and ran to help. We tried so hard to get them out of the shack but we could not get to them,” he said.
“I even tried to kick the doors but the flames were too big. It was huge.
“People were running up and down with water trying to put the fire out – but it took so long.”
DA Ward 12 councillor Sharlene Davids said she rushed over as soon as she got the news.
“I could not believe it. I knew them all very well. Everyone was crying and clearly traumatised when I arrived,” she said.
“I am even struggling to come to terms with it. It has not hit me yet.
“It is such a tragic incident. They [neighbours] tried everything but simply could not get to them,” she said.
“We are not sure what caused the fire. Last night they did borrow a candle from someone but I find it hard to believe that a candle could do such damage.”
Davids said Keisha was being looked after by her sister, Luchnene, after their mother passed away years ago.
“We have been waiting for the municipality to hand over the new houses. They keep telling me that they are still vetting people and this has stalled the process,” she said.
“We need them to get us away from these shacks and into the houses. There was shack fire at almost the same spot in 2017 where someone also died,”
Police spokesman Warrant Officer Alwin Labans said investigators were still gathering evidence.
“At this stage it is an inquest case as the cause of the fire is unknown. Once we get the reports from the fire investigators on the cause of the blaze, we should have more clarity,” he said.
“At this stage there is nothing to suggest foul play.”
Labans said their specialist fire detection dog would also be brought to the scene to help establish what caused the fire.