Thieves prey on shack fire victims

Niël Terblanché

Residents of the informal part of Mondesa in Swakopmund have expressed despair after their belongings were stolen by bystanders while their shacks were being destroyed by fire.

One of the residents, whose shack was miraculously saved from burning down, said that chaos erupted when the fire broke out in one of the backyard shacks on the same property.

“We had to hurry to carry all the children to safety and save as much of our belongings as possible,” she said.

The resident, who is a domestic worker and identified only as Julia, looks after children of primary school age. According to her, after they carried all their belongings out in the street, they had to use buckets of water and a garden hose to keep the fire from spreading to their shack.

“We were busy dousing my shack with water from buckets and the hose when the Swakopmund Fire Brigade arrived. They quickly extinguished the fire and kept on spraying water on the houses that were still standing to keep the fire from igniting again,” she said.

Julia said that one of her neighbours discovered that his television set was missing when they started to move their belongings back to the shacks that survived.

“These people come to ‘help’ us move our belongings to a safe distance but the next thing you know, they are walking away with your television or clothing,” she said.

Julia said that she removed her shoes when she went into her shack to see what else she could save, only to discover that someone had stolen them.

“We are thankful to be alive but it is difficult to live with the knowledge that people will steal everything while our minds are focused on saving our lives and our only worldly possessions,” she said.

Julia said the plastic sheets she uses to make her roof waterproof, were melted away and that her house would have burned down if the Fire Brigade did not arrive in time.

A total 12 shacks were destroyed in the blaze.

While the Fire Brigade was fighting the flames, two more shacks in another part of Mondesa caught fire and burned to the ground. One of the fire trucks at the first scene rushed to the second scene and extinguished the fire before more shacks were destroyed.

In the end, 14 shacks were destroyed and 38 people were left without a roof over their heads.

According to the official report about the incident on Tuesday morning, the blaze occurred in the Tulinawa section of Mondesa near the intersection of Monica Geingos and Stefanus Shipanga streets.

Inspector Ileni Shapumba, the Head of the Community Affairs Division of the Namibian Police in the Erongo Region, said the fire started in one of the backyard shacks and quickly spread to shacks on two other properties next door.

It is suspected that an overloaded electric lead melted and caused the fire.

According to Shapumba, the second shack fire occurred at houses situated on Andimba Toivo Ya Toivo Street in the DRC informal settlement.

Shapumba said in his report that the owner of one of the destroyed houses told investigators that he was cooking outside and that briefly went to his neighbour’s house.

When he returned, he noticed smoke coming from his place and when he arrived at his house it was already engulfed in flames.

According to Shapumba, the Fire Brigade was able to extinguish the fire before it could spread to more houses.

No serious injuries were reported but one of the residents was treated for smoke inhalation on the scene of the first devastating fire.

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