Among the rubble lies a Bible with not a single page burned.
“The Lord is good to us. He proves it to us through the grief, flames and ashes,” says Jessica van Jaarsveld, resident of the Villa Gloria settlement in Oatlands, in the west of Krugersdorp.
A devastating fire broke out in this settlement on Saturday evening. A total of 17 houses burned to the ground and 55 residents, including the elderly and children, were left homeless. About 350 residents live in the settlement.
Van Jaarsveld, daughter of Jackie van Jaarsveld, the caretaker of the settlement, confirmed that the fire broke out just before 20:00 during load shedding in one of the houses. According to preliminary investigation, a candle may have caused the fire.
“The trees between the houses caught fire and that’s how the fire spread from house to house. In one of the outside bathrooms was a gas bottle that caught fire and exploded,” says Van Jaarsveld.
Several fire services were called to the settlement in Engelbrecht Street in Oatlands and spent hours trying to put out the flames.
Mogale Response Services confirmed they were called to the scene at around 19:50. When they arrived at the scene, the fire had already spread to several houses.
The fire was completely extinguished around 00:30.
No human or animal died during the fire. Paramedics treated residents with minor to moderate injuries at the scene. One man was seriously injured and transported to hospital where his leg was amputated.
Tjaart Steenkamp and Amy Steyn, FF Plus board members in Krugersdorp, were on the scene to provide assistance.
Steenkamp describes the fire as a “chaotic and tragic event”.
“If it wasn’t for the quick action of the fire brigade, community policing forum (CPF), emergency services and community members, this disaster would be much worse,” says Steenkamp.
Steenkamp also thanked AfriForum for their help during the fire.
Steyn praised the response officers at the scene for their dedication and hard work.
“They dedicate their lives every day to protecting us and keeping us safe. Whether it’s the firefighters who fight the fires or paramedics who respond to emergency situations every day, police or community forums, they keep our communities safe. We owe each of them a big debt of gratitude,” says Steyn.
The management of Villa Gloria made accommodation available for the victims in an on-site kindergarten. Some of the other residents also made sleeping places available for the people in their own houses, while some went to live with out-of-town families.
The We’re Against Starvation (WAS) Foundation has also made sleeping space available within their soup kitchen community center. About 80% of the residents of the settlement get food from this center every day.
Donations are pouring in
Since the fire, donations have poured in for the settlement. Various organizations collected donations on behalf of the settlement. People from far and wide also dropped off donations.
According to Esmarelda van Zyl-Killian, founder of the WAS foundation, they have already collected two tons of clothes and more than enough blankets and mattresses since Sunday.
“The soup kitchen is half way full with donations,” says Van Zyl-Killian.
The organization also arranged for beds.
The residents’ Jojo water tanks melted during the fire and a 1,000 liter water tank was arranged to supply the residents with water daily. A few Jojo tanks have already been donated to the settlement and are yet to be delivered.
The foundation has also already collected lots of food and is making packages (starter hampers) for the victims, consisting of a pot, pan, food packets and cutlery.
The Cradle of Hope, a non-profit organization in Krugersdorp and the NG Gemeente Krugersdorp‑Noord have also asked that donations such as clothes, blankets, bedding, household items, kitchenware, curtains, beds, mattresses and toiletries be dropped off at them.
Cradle of Hope already helps mothers in the settlement with baby items, clothes, formula, diapers and many other necessities. Several of the residents also get breakfast and lunch from this organization. They also provide regular food parcels to many of the families.
Van Jaarsveld says they have been inundated with donations and are very grateful.
“Something positive came out of this bad experience. People care and their hearts are beautiful.
“People support us in every way. Even if it’s just to give us an encouraging word or a hug. The care extends to the Northern Cape, with people coming from there to support us.”
According to Van Zyl-Killian, the residents are traumatized and their world has been turned upside down.
“There are a lot of tears and a lot of sadness. Apart from furniture, there are important documents such as birth certificates and identity documents (IDs) that were also destroyed in the fire. Possessions with sentimental value – such as photographs – are also lost forever.
“The one aunt’s whole life was inside her house. She baked vetkoek and pancakes for a living and her equipment to be able to do that was destroyed.”
According to Van Jaarsveld, over the years, some of the residents had collected a few pieces of furniture and belongings, which were engulfed by the flames within several minutes. Van Jaarsveld’s sister is one of those whose house burned down.
“Since yesterday, some of the residents have been digging through the rubble to look for possessions that they can still save. Although their hearts are broken, they do not sit in sackcloth and ashes. They try to stay positive and keep each other positive. Everyone supports each other well. We are like one big family.
“We called together a prayer group and encouraged each other. We must see this as a new beginning. We will be able to pick up the pieces again and move on.”