Heritage Day tragedy as three family members die in fire and thieves steal belongings
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Cape Town - Heritage Day will never be the same again for a Tafelsig family, who lost three family members, including a six-year-old girl, while having their home ransacked by thieves, after a devastating fire.
Neighbours woke to the screams of Charne Witbooi just after 1.30am, when flames broke out inside her wendy house in Tafelsig, Mitchells Plain.
Heroic neighbours left their beds and attempted to save the family, by dousing the flames with water.
During the sadness and chaos, thieves took the opportunity to steal various items from relatives living in the main house, which included a television which they cut off from the cable, a bed, a cellphone, shoes, and meat from their freezer.
The fire scene has since been handed over to the police.
Jermaine Carelse, of the City’s Fire and Rescue Services, said two wooden structures burnt, leaving three people dead.
The fire claimed the lives of couple Liberty Gurapin, his girlfriend Charne Witbooi, and their daughter Tina Witbooi, who was six.
Carelse said: “On the scene, firefighters found two informal dwellings ablaze and the bodies of the father, mother, and their daughter, were discovered among the debris.
“The fire was extinguished at 3.08am and the scene was handed over to the SAPS.’’
Neighbour Mattwin Abrahams jumped to the rescue when he heard Witbooi’s desperate screams but, sadly, he could not save them as the flames were already strong and swept through two homes.
“I heard the lady, who lives in the wendy house next door, I heard her screaming and shouting. I woke my mother up and said that we need to help the neighbours, there is a fire,” said Abrahams.
He said he then saw the smoke coming out from the wendy house.
“When we got to the door, where others were also living, the place was already full of smoke and flames. We threw water and it was not enough, we tried our best to save her, to save the family. We do not know how the fire started. After the fire department arrived, that is when the fire was put out. We are still in a state of shock. The wendy house was partitioned into two halves. The people living on the right hand side of the wendy house escaped, while the people on the left could not escape and were the victims,” said Abrahams.
Witbooi’s sister Shannon Lawrence, who lives in the main house with her husband Jerome and four children, said they were devastated after the loss and even more so after thieves, pretending to help, took their furniture, clothing, her cellphone, and meat from the freezer.
“The one person said he needed my cellphone to use as a light and disappeared with it. A bed and television were taken, and the children’s shoes, clothes, and the meat from our freezer. Charne was my sister, and she lived with her boyfriend and their daughter at the back,” said Lawrence.
Lawrence added that her children’s school clothing, which had been hanging on the washing line, also burnt.
The family is in need of shoes for a boy, size three and clothes for a 10-year-old, size four shoes for a boy and girl and clothes for a 12 and 15-year-old boy.
Councillor Washiela Harris said she was shocked and disappointed at criminals taking advantage of the tragic situation, and is arranging for the mayor to assist with the burial.
“It is so heartbreaking. I have just left the family, three of their televisions were stolen, as well as their meat, bedding, and ornaments,” she said.
“The lady’s cellphone was also taken. I am so distraught, these people were in their time of need, the unsavoury characters took this as an opportunity to steal from these people, who have lost family members.
“We are going to assist them with the burials of the deceased, I have just spoken to the mayor.
“I do not have words for what I just heard, they cut off the wires to slide the television off the brackets.
“Disaster management was there and residents are also assisting with taking the debris outside, and the City will come and collect it.
“We are appealing for help for the children,” said Harris.
Police spokesperson Colonel Andre Traut said the cause of the fire has yet to be established: “The circumstances surrounding the death of three people are being investigated by police, after they succumbed to death in a fire, at their wendy house in Tunnel Street, Tafelsig, this morning.
“The victims are aged six, 26, and 27. The cause of the fire is yet to be determined,” said Traut.