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Cape Town - The family of five who died in a Lotus River shack fire on Monday had been without proper access to water for more than a month. Now relatives are seeking answers from the City of Cape Town, after the taps ran dry while they were attempting to fight the deadly blaze.
Peter Jacobs, his wife Carmen, their daughter Chandre Agulhas, 23, their son Kirk, 13, and grandson Matthew Agulhas, 2, died when they were trapped in a backyard wendy house at 408 Fifth Avenue in Lotus River.
On Tuesday Jacobs’s sister, Selena Jacobs, told the Cape Argus about the desperation she felt when, in a scramble to fight the fire, she tried to open a tap in the backyard. Water trickled out and then stopped. Selena lives in the house next to her brother’s family’s wendy house.
“It was up to the neighbours to rig up their hosepipes, to climb on their roofs and to hose the flames from the other side of the wall,” she said.
Jacobs admitted it was impossible to save the family by the time she was alerted to the fire – even if the hosepipe had worked. But she feels robbed of the opportunity to have tried to douse the flames herself.
Water access had been inconsistent at the house since Christmas Day, she said.
“I went to the municipal offices in early January to inquire about it,” Selena said. “They looked on their records and said that they had not switched off the water supply. They could not tell me what was wrong, but promised to send someone. Yet, since then they have not done so or even called me back.”
Ernest Sonnenberg, mayoral committee member for utility services, said the city had not cut off the property’s water supply, but added that city officials would visit the property to find the fault. “Water to put out fires is taken from fire hydrants and not from domestic connections,” he said.
“Thus the water that Fire and Rescue Services uses for fighting fire is not affected by any restrictions on domestic supplies. It must also be noted that in these dense and flammable environments, residents must develop habits that promote fire safety. While a garden hose may help to a certain extent if it is available, this would only be in the incipient stages of a fire.”