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Johannesburg - A fight over a donated bed is believed to have led to the torching of two blocks of flats, leaving 11 people - including an unborn child - homeless.
Further allegations are that one of the flats at Southfork Flats in Lenasia could have been saved on Thursday morning if firefighters had responded in time and arrived at the scene with a tanker that had water.
But Joburg emergency services said they had responded in time and that the problem with water arose from the fact that there are no hydrants in the complex.
Radah Reddy, who lives next to the flat where the fire broke out, said she was forced to leave her workplace and rush home.
Upon arrival, she found the apartment she shared with her husband and four children in flames. The devastation was too much to bear. As she stared at her burning house, she broke down and cried.
Cynthia Loubser, the owner of the flat where the fire started, couldn’t stop popping the bubble wrap she had in her hands.
The 52-year-old said: “It’s to take away the stress.”
Accusations flying around were that it was her son who had started the fire. Loubser and her son lived with three tenants - a mother and daughter as well as the daughter’s boyfriend.
According to neighbours, who did not want to be identified, a resident in the complex had given Loubser’s son a bed, but the tenants took it, saying the daughter was pregnant and should be the one sleeping on a bed.
They are alleged to have taken the bed from the young man’s bedroom, and when he confronted them, a fight erupted.
“If you don’t move out, I am going to burn the flat,” he is alleged to have said.
Poppy Khan, 43, who lives with her six children in a flat directly below Loubser’s, said the fighting continued throughout the night.
“Things were being thrown around, the burglar gate was being opened and shut and there was swearing.
“We thought it would end but it just continued. I then heard the son calling me. He said: ‘Aunty Poppy, come help, they are hurting me’. However, as I ran outside, the tenants locked the gate.
“We heard him shouting again, saying he was going to call the police because they had taken his bed. The fighting never ended and we finally dozed off.
“And then in the morning a neighbour shouted, saying I should take my children outside because the building was on fire,” she said.
Neither the tenants nor the owner’s son could be found on Thursday. They are alleged to have fled when the blaze broke out.
Some residents said the fire would have not spread to Reddy’s flat if firefighters had arrived on time and with a truck that had water.
Emergency services spokesman Robert Mulaudzi said their records show that they received a call at 8.50am and that the first fire engine arrived at 9am because the fire station was “just around the corner”.
“The fire engine had water on it as usual; however, the complex didn’t have water.
“We had to go and refill the tank nearby, and that was not going to be the case if the complex had a water supply.
“However, that didn’t hamper our operations because we had another three fire engines and a water tanker to assist us with water supply,” he added.
Mulaudzi said it was not known what the cause of the fire was.