A BECKER Street home was gutted by fire last Thursday when an elderly couple, who were renting the house, turned on a small gas heater which caught alight.
Fire and emergency services were called at 6.05pm. Witnesses said the local fire department had been busy fighting another fire so could only send the fire brigade bakkie before their truck arrived at around 6.30pm, at which point the home had already been engulfed in flames.
Police were already on the scene at the time and Janet and Bob Brannon were taken to the hospital to be treated for shock by Isobel, Andrew and Lauren Meyer of Pam Golding Properties, who remained with them until they were released.
The Brannon’s have been staying at the Meyer’s home since the incident. Janet is in her 70s, while Bob is in his 80s and wheelchair bound.
As usual, the Port Alfred community has pulled together in helping the couple, who were forced to evacuate their home with none of their possessions.
A few days before the incident the couple had just returned from a two-week trip to George where they visited Bob’s oncology doctor and tied-up some issue with the sale of their house in Sedgefield. The couple had only been in Port Alfred for two months and, on the chilly evening, Janet decided to turn on the heater, something she had done many times before.
“I went into the other room and when I returned, the valve on top of the bottle was burning. I couldn’t close the tap off as it was restricted by parts of the heater. I then threw water on it and when that didn’t work I threw wet towels over it in an attempt to douse it, by that time the flames were getting bigger,” Janet said.
“I didn’t know any telephone numbers so I called the owner of the house. I went back into the bedroom to get Bob out and by that time I had to guide him against the wall to get him out,” she said.
Janet said by that time, the dining room table was on fire where her handbag, car keys and phone were lying. “By the time Bob got outside, he was so exhausted he just sat on the steps and I started screaming. I ran into the road and stopped a car,” she said.
“The people in the car were incredible, they jumped out and ran to pick up Bob and carried him to their Kombi where they put him in the back seat.”
Janet said the fire spread so fast, as there was so much gas fuelling it, including gas bottles attached to her gas stove in the kitchen. “Every time I turned around something new was alight; I never even thought about taking anything with me,” she said.
“We are so overwhelmed by the people of Port Alfred; there is such kindness and generosity in this community.”
She added that she now has more clothes than she has ever owned in her life, and that they are beautiful items and suitable. “Thank you to everyone,” she said.
Hospice has assisted the couple as well as Dirk de Vos of Kowie Towing who towed their vehicle away to safety at no charge, while Doug from Kowie Key hot-wired the car and is re-cutting keys for them – also for free. Kekkel n Kraai made a generous donation to the couple as well.
SuperSpar generously donated a voucher of R2 500 for use at any store in the Rosehill Mall.
The couple have managed to secure an unfurnished house from November 1.
“The Meyers have been so kind and generous and considerate. They have been our buffer, they have allowed us to grieve and work though this with their help and support. Andrew protects us and has done all the homework and spared us from stressful details with sorting out insurance and so on,” Janet said.
Andrew also managed to salvage Janet’s mother’s wedding ring, a watch and a few other sentimental items through using a metal detector in the debris.
Andrew said Santam insurers had been “absolutely amazing” as they had just put their claim in on Monday and they had already been paid out.
But sadly the couple’s cat Nellie, a tortoise shell colour, has gone missing. She is about ten years old and was wearing a blue harness with bells on when she fled from the house. Anyone with information can contact TotT or Isobel Meyer at Pam Golding, Port Alfred.
Ndlambe spokesman Cecil Mbolekwa said: “During the afternoon of September 28 2017, our Fire Department were dispatched to a serious fire at the Santa landfill site. They were still on scene when the report for the fire in Becker Street was received. They left the Santa scene and attended to refilling of the water tanker and then immediately responded to Becker Street.”