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Couple die in backyard shack blaze

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CAPE TIMES

Neighbours look at the charred wreckage of the shack in which a Belhar couple died when they became trapped by flames. Photo: Brenton Geach

Cape Town -Three days after he had been given the use of a backyard shack, ending his search for accommodation, a man and his girlfriend died engulfed in flames.

Landlady Elizabeth Jacobs said she had been awakened by neighbours’ screams about 9pm on Saturday.

Her husband went outside to investigate, but the shack “burnt out very fast” and no one could get close enough to try to save Ernest Steward and his girlfriend, Chaimaine Rhode.

Steward, who was said by a cousin to have lost a son in a fire, was 50, and Rhode, understood to be a mother of three, was 40.

“It is suspected the fire was caused by open flames used to warm themselves,” said City of Cape Town Disaster Risk Management spokesman Wilfred Solomons-Johannes.

Jacobs said she had offered Steward the use of the shack “for as long as he wished” because he had been staying in a derelict house that did not have a roof.

“I did not know him that much, I did not even know his real name. I knew him as ‘Taisi’.

“He told me he had problems with his family and that they did not want him at their place.”

Awakened by the screams, “I told my husband to go out because I have no legs and I am stuck in this bed.”

Jacobs said her husband told her the shack had been destroyed and there was nothing he could have done.

“It was too late when we woke up,” said Jacobs.

“I knew he was in the house when the fire took place, but I just prayed that somehow he and his girlfriend managed to escape.

“It was disturbing and hurtful to see the way they died.”

Steward’s cousin Audrey Wakefield said the family was saddened by his death.

“He also lost his son in a shack fire.

“There are no words to describe what we are going through.”

Rhode’s family said they had last seen her on Friday after she left with Steward.

“I did not know where they went after they left the house. We were told today that she had passed away last night,” said Rhode’s brother-in-law Martin Muller.

He said Rhode had three children.

“Her children were put in foster care by social workers. I can’t remember how long they have been there.

“I am not certain about all their ages, but the youngest is 10 this year.”

siyavuya.mzantsi@inl.co.za

Cape Times


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