CAPE Town city officials have launched a verification process to determine how many people have been left homeless by a fire in the Masiphumelele informal settlement near Fish Hoek.
This comes after an influx of illegal settlers threw the city’s records of inhabitants for the area into disarray.
Initial estimates were that up to 5 000 people could have been left homeless by the fire, which started early yesterday. It swept through the densely populated area, killing one person and destroying 1 500 shacks and 15 houses.
By this morning, residents had started rebuilding their homes. The Cape Argus team on the scene said they had seen wooden planks being dropped off, while several residents appeared to be rebuilding their homes with salvaged material.
Illegal structures put up on the city council’s predetermined fire breaks and access routes, as well as on land not deemed suitable for housing, prevented fire fighters from getting to the blaze on time, said Wilfred Solomons-Johannes, the spokesman for the city’s disaster management department.
“We had lists of the legal residents in the settlement and those on our housing lists, but since those lists were compiled, many people have moved in and erected illegal structures.
“The fire brigade reached the scene within five minutes, but firefighters were unable to get to the flames soon enough because all the fire breaks and access routes had been blocked by illegal structures.”
Yesterday, mayor Dan Plato and MEC for Social Development Patricia de Lille visited the site.
“The scene is still a total disaster. The rain is aggravating the situation. We have provided starter kits for homes to be rebuilt and trucks are here to clear the site,” Plato said.
He said community centres and churches in the area would be housing many of those who had been displaced.
“We are also contacting NGOs, and clothes, food and blankets are coming in.”
Solomons-Johannes said the city’s service infrastructure in the area had been destroyed.
“Electricity cables, water pipes and toilets were all destroyed and maintenance teams are on the scene restoring services.”
De Lille said her department had been at the scene since early this morning providing blankets, food and baby packs to residents.
“We have also contacted home affairs to assist with ID documents and we are providing trauma counselling. In April there were 28 fires, mostly shack fires, where 21 people died. It is still fire season, especially now that it’s getting cold,” she said.
By late yesterday, Posai Sigauke was still searching for his six-year-old daughter who went missing during the chaos and confusion when the fire broke out. “Since the fire broke out I have been searching for my daughter.”
The worried dad, whose home and belongings were all destroyed, said he had been carrying clothes from his home when she went missing.
Mabutisaaimam Landelo, who had been living at the informal settlement for 16 years, said he was asleep when the fire broke out.
“I was sleeping so I didn’t have time after I woke up to retrieve any of my belongings.”
Another resident, London Daka, said he was unprepared for how quickly the fire spread.
As he entered his formal RDP house to start packing some of his clothing, roof tiles caved in.
“I immediately ran into my room to save my four-year-old son and left the house. Some of my friends still managed to carry my fridge out, but it was too late to save anything else.”
Solomons-Johannes said the cause of the fire was being investigated.
He said donations could be delivered to the local community hall, as well as to the Fish Hoek and Ocean View police stations.
Solomons-Johannes said city officials were due to visit the area again today to speak to the community about the importance of fire breaks and why they should not be built on.