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An elderly Valhalla couple who lost their home and their beloved parrot in a fire have questioned how it could have taken Tshwane’s Fire Brigade almost an hour to travel from the nearest fire station less than 9km from their house.
Louis Fourie said a lifetime of possessions and memories were destroyed when their home of 26 years was gutted by fire in the early hours of Sunday.
Fourie and his neighbours tried to extinguish the fire with hose-pipes, but they were no match for the blaze that soon engulfed the roof.
Fourie is furious about the response time from the nearest fire brigade which is in Lyttelton.
“They got here after 55 minutes but were not even kitted up yet. The flames were higher than the roof but when they arrived they first “assessed” the fire while it flared and destroyed our property.
“They didn’t care,” he said. “How can they take almost an hour to get here when the fire station is less than 10km away?” he asked.
Tshwane emergency services has launched an investigation into the allegations.
Fourie said he was uncertain when the fire started, but said they were woken by a loud explosion which caused the house to tremble.
He initially thought it was a gunshot, but realised there were flames outside their bedroom.
The 65-year-old said he told his wife, Nerina, to get out of the house and run outside to connect the hose-pipe to try to prevent the fire from spreading.
“Our neighbour saw the fire while we were in the house. He was also trying to put it out with a hose, but we weren’t even denting the fire which was growing at a phenomenal speed and the flames were higher than the house.”
His neighbours made calls to emergency services and the fire station to report the fire, he said.
Valhalla Community Policing Forum member Elsebe Rossouw, who operates the forum’s call centre, said they were alerted about the fire through a group they formed on WhatsApp. “Messages of the fire came in at about 12.24am. That’s when we started calling emergency services,” she said.
Fourie said the fire brigade arrived at about 1.30am.
Nerina said they lost a great deal of items of sentimental value that cannot be replaced. “We lost things that we inherited from our late parents and siblings.
“We are still saddened about Coco, who was 29. Our parrot was more than a pet; he was part of the family. He had a lot of character and held conversations with us. We are deeply saddened by him dying in this manner,” she said.
Looking at the rubble, Fouriesaid their lives had been brought to a standstill.
The investigation into the fire is not yet complete, but investigators believe it was caused by a faulty plug extension. “I think it was one of those cheap, mass-produced untested extensions,” said Fourie.
Ian Cameron, AfriForum’s head of community safety, said they would be laying a complaint with the City of Tshwane.
“We are going to ask to see the log book to establish properly what time the calls came in, because taking an hour to get to a scene is too long. We also want them to investigate if their members were dressed properly, because if they were ready they could have been able to contain the fire,” he said.
Tshwane emergency services spokesman Johan Pieterse said he could not confirm nor deny the allegations but said there would be an investigation. “At the moment there is nothing we can do because the guys who responded to the call are not in. They will be in tomorrow (Wednesday),” Pieterse said.
Fourie was grateful for having painted his emergency keys with fluorescent paint to make them easier to spot in the dark. “This helped us exit the house quickly,” he said.
The house was insured, but Fourie was unsure how long it would take to rebuild. The roof and plumbing has to be fixed and the roof and the house rewired. Family and friends have provided the couple with shelter and clothing.