Heater suspected in fatal shack fire

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INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS

Family members and friends carry Shonice Davids after she had heard that her sister and children had died in a fire that consumed their shack in Vlakfontein, south of Joburg. Photo: Bongiwe Mchunu

Johannesburg - Lucille Davids was worried her family’s shack was too cold for her unborn child at night.

On Wednesday morning, all she could do was stare in disbelief at the charred remains of the same shack in which most of her family were killed in a blaze.

She most likely would have lost her life, too, had this happened two weeks ago. But she had recently started sleeping at her boyfriend’s house to avoid the cold weather.

Davids’s mother, her three siblings and a nephew were all killed early on Wednesday morning as they slept in their shack in Vlakfontein, south-west of Joburg.

Police and emergency services suspect the fire that razed the shack to the ground was caused by a heater left on during the night.

Davids lost her mother Riana Stalmeester, her sister Laverne Adams, 28, brothers Ashwin, 9, and Riaan Stalmeester, 14, and nephew Gershwin Adams, 9, all of whom burnt to death in the blaze.

“I can’t believe it, I still can’t believe it,” she said. Davids is five months pregnant.

She said she had tried to keep up hope when she arrived at the scene, but her optimism quickly faded.

“I thought they could’ve been somewhere else, but then I realised that was impossible.”

About two weeks ago, she moved from the shack to her boyfriend’s house, which is a brick structure.

“We decided it’s best I sleep there while I’m pregnant because of the cold,” she said.

On Tuesday night, she visited her family at the shack to “check if they were okay” before returning to her boyfriend.

A tear rolled down her cheek as she recalled laughing with her mother that night.

At 21, Davids looks young for her age. She smiled through the tears, saying people often commented that she was “another teen pregnancy”.

At that moment, Riana’s three sisters arrived and wailed as they saw the charred remains of the shack.

One of the sisters, Shonice Davids, collapsed, and it appeared she was having a seizure.

Eventually, she stopped shaking and sat against a wall across the road from the shack, just staring ahead. The sisters were too distraught to talk about their loss.

The only other survivingfamily member was Lawrence Stalmeester, Riana’s husband and Davids’s father, who was devastated when he arrived at the scene. “I felt like killing myself, that’s all. They were my everlastings,” he said.

Stalmeester, a truck driver, was on duty last night.

 

Police spokesman Warrant Officer Kay Makhubela said it appeared the fire had been caused by a heater that was left on overnight, but said they would investigate other possibilities.

Forensic investigators combed the scene while sniffer dogs went through the burnt rubble looking for clues.

Makhubela and Joburg Emergency Services spokesman Robert Mulaudzi begged people to switch off appliances at night as this was a common cause of fires.

A distant relative, Lorrain Laurie, said Laverne and Riaan were in their beds in one room, while Gershwin and Ashwin shared another room.

Riana was found in between the rooms, possibly trying to reach her children.

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