The piercing cries of a six-month-old baby propelled a young woman into a raging fire at an Overport shack settlement on Monday in a heroic rescue.
When the commotion had died down after the fire was contained and baby Natasha was safely in the arms of her babysitter, the egg yolk poultice on Cocela Mlobeli’s face told the community of how the 21-year-old woman had saved the toddler.
The egg yolk, said Mlobeli, was to conceal the burn marks and to help them heal faster.
Earlier, a man who had tried to enter the shack to save the crying girl was burnt on his arm by the inferno.
The close-knit community in the informal settlement of Jadhu, Overport, erupted into chaos after a fire broke out gutting, at least 100 shacks and leaving 200 people homeless. The fire, said residents, had started at about 9am.
Brenda Nodade, 25, said she suspected one of the residents had left a paraffin stove on.
“It smelled like someone was cooking and then there was this big bang. I went out to see what was happening and by that time the shack had already caught on fire, and it was spreading to other shacks,” she said.
Despite residents’ attempts to put out the blaze it soon spread to other shacks.
“The wind was just too strong and we didn’t have much water,” said Nomusa Khawunda, who was babysitting four toddlers, including Natasha.
The babies, she said, were all lying on the bed and she had managed to grab three, leaving Natasha behind.
When she went back to fetch her, the fire had spread to her shack. A neighbour, John Magwaza, tried to run into the shack, but he got burnt on his arm.
He tried to smash open the window, but it had burglar guards. That is when Mlobeli, a second year HR student at Berea Technikon, ran into the shack.
“She was just crying and I thought to myself I can’t just stand here and watch this child die,” Mlobeli said.
“That is when I went inside.”
As she grabbed Natasha, covering her with her jacket, Mlobeli said she struggled to breathe as she inhaled the hot smoke.
“I said to myself I would rather die than to allow this innocent child to die like this,” she said, the pain from the burn palpable.
“I only realised later that one side of my face was in pain.”
Natasha’s mother had not returned from work when a Daily News team visited on Monday.
Municipal spokesman Mandla Nsele, said that a fireman sustained a minor injury while putting out the fire and was admitted to hospital.
He said the municipality, through its Disaster Management Department, had provided 100 blankets and 100 food parcels, as short-term relief.
Area councillor Bhekisani Ngcobo had identified two temporary shelters where those who had lost their homes had been moved.
The city was still working on organising additional relief, like building material, from NGOs and business.
The extent of the damage, said Nsele, was still being assessed.
Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs MEC Nomusa Dube, said the department was working with the municipality to provide aid.
“We are saddened to learn of the fire... we urge our people to learn from this incident and take our warning about habits that lead to fires seriously,” Dube said. - Daily News