Family of four die in Hangberg fire

| Kimon de Greef
Survivors Lionel Abrahams, Neil Faulmann and Rodney Abrahams at the site of a shack fire that killed a family of four in Hangberg, Hout Bay, last Sunday. Photo by Kimon de Greef.

A family of four was killed and eleven bungalows burned to the ground in a Hangberg shack fire early on Sunday morning.

Meter taxi driver Raymond Martin, 49, his wife Sophia de Wee, 48, and their sons Monray and Ramone, aged 10 and 12, died in the blaze.

Neighbours suspect that the fire was unintentionally started by de Wee’s brother, a mentally disabled man who used to sleep beneath the house.

“Perhaps he forgot to blow out his candle,” neighbour Lionel Abrahams said on Monday, standing on the charred ground where his own home once stood.

Police are investigating the cause of the fire.

Abrahams, who works on a charter boat at the V&A Waterfront, told GroundUp how he fought to extinguish the flames after shepherding his wife, five children and grandchild to safety. “We tried to put the fire out with hosepipes but the flames were already too big,” he said.

Onlookers who gathered at the blackened plots, which were hastily cleared on Sunday, complained that the City’s response to the fire was too slow. By the time firefighters arrived — 25 minutes later, according to Abrahams — it was too late to save the buildings.

However, Cape Town Fire and Rescue Services spokesperson Theo Layne said that the fire was extinguished “timeously”.

“Accessing the bungalows with our trucks was difficult. It’s a challenge we always face responding to shack fires.”

The informal settlement where the bungalows stood has expanded in response to chronic overcrowding in the Hout Bay fishing community.

“There’s nowhere else to go,” explained Conroy Meter, a neighbour whose brick structure survived the fire. “When your children grow up they need to move out and start their own lives. People are going to keep building here until they see alternatives.”

The settlement, which the City claims is encroaching on a nearby firebreak, has been the site of violent clashes between residents and local government in the past.

“We keep seeing the firebreak move higher on the other side of the valley,” Meter said, pointing at the large houses across the bay. “Yet we’re told this firebreak is a fixed line.”

The 58 people left homeless have been offered temporary accommodation at the Hangberg Community Hall and provided with rebuilding kits by the Department of Human Settlements. The Red Cross has supplied hot meals and blankets. Now victims face the task of reassembling their lives.

“This was my home,” Lionel Abrahams said, staring at the wreckage around him. “I’ve lived here for 15 years. Now everything is gone.”

The family who perished died silently, according to neighbours. Neil Faulmann, another displaced resident, told GroundUp about his attempts to access the burning home.

“There was too much smoke inside. I couldn’t see. They didn’t shout or call for help. When the balcony started to collapse I moved to safety.”

Community members say that the bodies were found huddled together, one child on his mother’s stomach, the other between his father’s legs.

“They were a wonderful family,” Abrahams said. “We used to socialise on weekends. Our kids were together all the time. It’s a very heavy thing to deal with.”

Survivors will start rebuilding their homes as soon as the debris is removed.

To help, contact Natasha Meter on 076 22 14 393. Donations can also be dropped off at Sea Point Fire Station and Hout Bay SAPS.

TOPICS:  Society

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