Cape Town -
A 21-year-old Lotus River man came home after a night out to find his entire family – parents, sister, brother and two-year-old nephew – had died in a fire early on Monday.
When Jason Jacobs got home to Fifth Avenue he found three backyard structures had been razed. The occupants of two of the shacks escaped with their lives, but Jacobs’s family were all dead.
They were his father, Peter Jacobs, 59, his mother Carmen Jacobs, 39; his brother Kirk Jacobs, 13; his sister Chandre Agulhas, 23; and his nephew Matthew Agulhas, 2.
After the flames had died down, other relatives on the property found the body of young Kirk on his knees beside his bed, apparently in prayer.
When the Cape Argus arrived at the site on Monday, Jason Jacobs, who had spent the night with friends, was there being consoled by relatives. He was too distraught to be interviewed.
Other family members recounted the harrowing experience of hearing the family screaming inside the shack and pleading for help as the flames spread from the kitchen to the rest of the house.
Peter Jacobs’s sister, Selena Jacobs, 52, who lives in the brick house on the property, was woken just after midnight by screams from the backyard. She ran outside to see the shacks on fire.
Her brother and his family were pleading for help from behind the burglar bars of an open window at the far end of the shack. By that stage, the fire had spread from the kitchen, which had the only door to the outside, through the lounge and was moments away from engulfing the family in the bedroom.
“It was terrible because there was nothing that any of us could do,” said Rogena Vergotine, Peter Jacobs’s niece.
She said: “The structure was too strong for them to break out and they could not dash for the exit because the fire was between them and the kitchen door. The screams went on and became more and more desperate.
“Suddenly it became very quiet inside the shack and we knew that it was over.”
Surviving members of the family have taken some solace in the fact that 13-year-old Kirk was found on his knees beside the bed.
“He was praying. For us it is a sign that he was near God at the time of his death,” Vergotine said.
Monday’s vigil at the house gave family and friends the opportunity to reminisce about those who died.
They were described as “pleasant”, “loving” and “close” with one another. Kirk had just started school at Zeekoevlei Secondary School. He was “obsessive” about soccer and had signed up for a rowing team.
Toddler Matthew would have celebrated his third birthday on Friday. His mother Chandre, had been planning his party.
Peter and Carmen were happily married and regularly took the family to visit their grandparents, Mariam and Suleiman Hendricks, in Elsies River for Sunday braais.
Peter was a keen fisherman who liked to take the family on trips to Gordon’s Bay, his favourite angling spot.
Community leader Vincent Carelse said the incident was more than just a family tragedy and should draw attention to the vulnerability of backyard dwellers and people living in shacks throughout the city.
“It is too often we hear about these fires,” he said.
“Today just shows how deadly they can be. It is a personal tragedy, but it is also a challenge to the government. People need houses and the rollout is happening too slowly.”
City disaster management spokesman Wilfred Solomons-Johannes said that the cause of the fire remained unclear and was being investigated by police.
“The disaster response teams and social workers are currently there offering trauma counselling as a result of the sad loss and providing social relief aid,” he said.