Load shedding blamed for Chatsworth house fire

By JANINE MOODLEY Time of article published Feb 14, 2020

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Durban - Many people will use candles on Valentine’s Day to create a romantic environment.

But for the Johns family of Chatsworth, candles have become a necessity after they say load shedding caused a fire that left a part of their home in ashes.

Christopher Johns, 50, who lives with his wife, Renata, 31, five-year-old daughter and 75-year-old mother, said the fire started at around 8am last Saturday. This was shortly after the lights came on following two hours of load shedding.

Johns, who does maintenance work, was at a job in Umbilo when a neighbour called to tell him his house was on fire.

Renata, who is employed at a tavern, was at work. But his daughter and mother were at home.

“I rushed home afraid something had happened to them,” he said.

“Thankfully, my mum was in the bath downstairs, and my daughter had been playing outside. If they had been in the room when the fire started, God knows what would have happened.”

Christopher Johns stands in room where the fire started. Shelly Kjonstad African News Agency (ANA)

The family have a double storey home in Crossmoor. Johns grew up in the house and has been living there since 1969.

By the time Johns reached home, the fire department had extinguished the blaze. However, the top floor was gutted. The roof and walls were destroyed. So too were beds, furniture and clothing.

On this floor were two bedrooms where whatever little the family treasured was kept. This included the Bible, a family album and his mother Devi’s sewing machine.

“I am a devout Christian. I pray every day and regularly read the Bible. It was one of my most prized possessions. I had it for such a long time. Now, I can’t even afford a new one.”

The family album had pictures of Johns and his friends in their younger days. “I loved that album because it brought back such good memories.”

Also gone was the sewing machine that helped provide some income.

When the POST visited the home on Monday, the family were trying to make do by living in the bottom section of the house. This comprises a kitchen area, lounge and bathroom.

Pots, buckets and plastic containers were placed strategically in different parts of the room to catch rain water.

“The four of us sleep in the lounge. It is so uncomfortable. Now that it is raining it is worse because the water comes in from every side. My biggest worry is our safety.

“The roof is not safe, and I am worried it will collapse soon.”

Johns blames his current plight on load shedding.

“It is bad enough when you have to deal with the electricity going out. But it has now destroyed part of our home and our valuables.

“I don’t know what to do. We can’t live like this. Councillors from other areas have tried to help us, but the councillor from our own area has not come.”

Sagren Naidoo, secretary general of Activists Movement of South Africa, who also visited the family, said it was sad to see a family who was already struggling financially suffer even more.

“We appeal to the community to assist with building material, cement, beds, wardrobes, clothing, or whatever little they can give.

“Load shedding is proving to be more than an inconvenience. It is putting people’s lives at risk. The government is responsible for this mess and they need to fix it.”

Nelson Subramoney, an executive member of AMSA, said there was a real danger that the ceiling could collapse. “We need to help this family,” he said.

According to the report by the Chatsworth fire station, an electrical fault started the fire, and it took them 20minutes to put out the flames.

In a statement, Blue Security said there were multiple recent house fires in Glenashley, Durban North and Chatsworth that raised concerns over power outages.

“With routine power outages, we need to be aware that some appliances can be a fire risk when electricity is restored,” said spokesperson Andreas Mathios.


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