FAMILY members who had escaped from their burning shacks grabbed an axe and smashed at the wall of a third shack to try to save the rest of the family.
Five people, including a two-year-old and a teenager, died in the fire in Lotus River early yesterday.
The family, who lived in three shacks metres from each other in 5th Avenue, were backyard dwellers. The fire started in one and spread to the remaining two.
The blaze broke out shortly after midnight but neighbours said by the time they noticed it, “it was already too late”.
When the Cape Times visited the scene yesterday, family and friends were holding a prayer service at the scene.
Some held hands while others fought back tears.
Hours earlier the community had heard screams coming from the shack and had rallied together to try to save the family – Peter Jacobs, his wife, Carmen Jacobs, their children Sandre and Matthew Jacobs and Kirk Agulhas, who was Carmen Jacobs’s son from a previous relationship.
Peter Jacobs worked as a taxi driver while his wife was a domestic worker.
Matthew, would have turned three on Friday.
Randall Jacobs, a nephew of Peter Jacobs, said they had used an axe to break down the shack. When they had managed to make a hole big enough for someone to escape, they were engulfed by smoke.
Randall Jacobs, whose shack was also destroyed in the fire, said it had been “impossible” to save the family.
“There was nothing more we could have done. The blaze was too big when we woke up. I saw them through the window but they couldn’t get out because of the blaze. I saw all of them because the fire was on the other side of the shack.
“I felt I could save them, especially Matthew because he was closer to the window. They were screaming for help. The house was solid so we couldn’t break it easily.”
He said they could not easily access water to douse the flames as the water at the main house on the property had been cut off the day before.
“Seeing your family dying and feeling like you could have done something (more) ... is the most painful thing that has ever happened to me. All the efforts we put in failed,” he said.
He said he lost R5 000 of his savings and all his belongings.
“We went closer to (the shack) for about 15 seconds and moved away because it was hot. The fire lasted for about 25 to 30 minutes. When they took out their bodies, I knew they were dead already. It was the worst feeling ever and I don’t know if this pain will disappear.”
Peter’s sister Naomi Jacobs said she was awakened by a flash of flame through her window. “I screamed for help and ran out of the house. When I got out, my brother’s house was completely gutted. It’s still unbelievable what happened to them because we just spoke with them and the next thing, they are gone. The painful part about this is the fact that we could not even say goodbye to them.”
Police spokesman Andre Traut said it’s unclear how the fire started.
“This matter is still under investigation. The cause of the fire is yet to be established,” he said.
In a separate incident, 10 people were left homeless when a fire swept through two shacks in Manenberg.