Pregnant woman dies in shack fire

Bukelwa Booi stands where her cousin Thembisa Booi died when her shack caught fire. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane

Bukelwa Booi stands where her cousin Thembisa Booi died when her shack caught fire. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane

Published Apr 18, 2011


Three people died, 13 buildings were gutted and many hectares of farmland were scorched in fires which raged in the Cape region over the past four days.

As darkness fell on Sunday, helicopters were forced to abandon water-bombing of the wildfire in the Helderberg mountains, which had swept from Somerset West over the ridge to Stellenbosch, threatening wine farms. The fire was still burning fiercely on Sunday night, but a change of wind direction had forced it into the higher reaches, inaccessible to fire engines.

A firefighter reported that the Helderberg fire was so intense in the early hours that trees “virtually exploded in fireballs, sending flames 100m into the night sky”.

Three helicopters and three fixed-wing aircraft water bombed the Helderberg fire over the weekend, while 200 firefighters fought the blaze on the ground.

A thick cloud of smoke hung over the region on Sunday, and as the wind picked up in the afternoon, the blaze ravaged the forested area above a number of wineries, including Ernie Els, Bilton House and Peter Falke.

Gustaf Berger, a firefighter for the Cape Winelands fire service, said on Sunday: “It’s not really out of control, but not in control either. To fully extinguish that fire is impossible.”

Winemakers joined firefighters with the Cape Winelands fire service to ensure that the flames stayed within the forested area. Tractors normally used to spray insecticide were instead equipped to spray water.

Schalk Westhuizen, a worker at Peter Falke Wines, said: “So far we’ve been lucky. It hasn’t taken out any of our vineyards, but we still need to hope that the wind doesn’t reach gale force.”

- Emergency services reported on Sunday they had responded to 106 fire calls over the weekend, ranging from fires in residential areas to grass fires.

- At the Redhill informal settlement above Simon’s Town, a 23-year-old pregnant woman died in a fire that broke out among the shacks on Friday night. Police spokesperson Frederick van Wyk said the circumstances surrounding the fire were being investigated and an inquest docket has been opened.

- The charred bodies of two adults, an unidentified man and woman, were found after firefighters had extinguished a grass fire at Eerste River on Thursday. The cause of the fire is being investigated and the authorities had no further details.

The expectant mother with days to go to full term killed in the Redhill fire was Thembisa Booi, 23, originally from Fort Beaufort near Grahamstown.

Her cousin and neighbour Bukelwa Booi said last night: “I think she must have tried to get out through a window but because of her pregnancy she could not get through.

“She was so excited about this baby that she even gave me some baby clothes and things to keep safely for her.”

The fire in Somerset West began on the Erinvale Golf Estate. Unconfirmed reports are that the fire was caused by a flare-up on Friday when high winds fanned coals left behind from a controlled burn at the golf course on Wednesday.

Ignacius Smart, head of fire and safety in the city, confirmed yesterday that the fire had started at Erinvale, but said he did not have any information as to the cause of the fire.

“We will be doing an investigation,” he said. - Cape Times

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