On Sunday firefighters in Durban, South Africa, had to fend off violent attacks from community members when a shack fire spread rapidly leaving close to 2,000 people homeless.
Firefighters responded to the blaze at the Foreman Road informal settlement in Clare Estate. It is believed the fire started when a candle fell over in the early hours of Sunday morning, but the firefighters had to flee when the residents turned on them and cut a fire hose.
This resulted in the fire spreading quickly and destroying between 800 and 1,000 shacks. The Durban Fire division's commander Owen Singh said the firefighters arrived at about 3.30am on Sunday morning and found several shacks well alight.
“We prioritise stopping the fire from spreading, we don’t necessarily put out the fire where it started first,” said Singh.
Singh added that some of the residents, who were anxious that their shacks be saved, stabbed the firefighters' hosepipe to get water to put out the fire burning their shacks.
Singh explained that this, however, decreased the water pressure and eventually cut off the water supply to where the firefighters were working.
"Now the crowd was anxious because there was no water coming out. It was a vicious cycle. We can understand people’s desperation but firefighters are professionals and we know what we’re doing", said Singh.
A mob of residents then turned on the firefighters, injuring one of the fighters, by hitting him on the back with a pipe. Under attack, they had to retreat, fleeing the scene to standby at a nearby garage, while they waited for police. Durning this time, the fire raged on.
Firefighter eventually returned under police guard and put the fire out. Two adults in the shack where the fire had initially started were injured. Police spokeswoman Colonel Thembeka Mbele said a 2-year-old from the same house had died.
With the smoke still rising from the cinders, some residents have already started rebuilding their homes. Phemaza Nyikiza said she only managed to save her ID which was in her purse she grabbed when she ran out of her shack. “I didn’t even think of taking anything because my priority was getting my child out.”
“The main problem is that there is no open space to put up a tent in the area, but we have several relief organisations efforts already in the area assisting where they can,” said the ward councillor, Hassan Haniff.