A 75-year-old Johannesburg woman and her son had to run for their lives with their pets out of their house on Wednesday morning to escape a devastating fire suspected to have been caused by stray new year fireworks.
“I have never felt so tired,” Christina Upton told News24 after she and her son Laurence made it out alive with their pets as their home in Central Avenue, Jacanlee, went up in flames.
All Christina remembers is Lawrence shouting at her: “Get up! Mom please get up.”
She says that she felt so foggy, not fully comprehending what was happening.
Neighbour Thys Koekemoer said that Lawrence was woken up by the sensation of intense heat, and the smell of something burning. He grabbed his wallet and his laptop and ran to his mother’s room to get her out of the house.
It is suspected that fireworks landed on the property from revellers in a nearby suburb who had been setting off fireworks into the early hours of the morning.
A small fire may have started in the garden as a result of the fireworks landing there, and this may have set off an explosion of a gas cylinder.
Christina was not responding immediately to her son.
“He shouted at me: ‘Wake up! The bloody house is on fire’.”
They got outside to safety but their ordeal was not over yet.
She said the emergency services numbers they called incredulously went to voicemail.
“It was disgusting.”
She said she also phoned the Vodacom 112 number and could not get through so she raced to a fire brigade in Randburg.
She raced over in her car to a fire station in Randburg and was told they do not have a fire engine.
She then sped to the next one in Roosevelt Park.
However, she was told that she would have to wait for half an hour for the fire truck to warm up “because it’s brakes won’t work otherwise”.
They eventually followed her to the house.
She said when they arrived she had to watch helplessly while they started putting on their boots and their fire gear which she feels they could have done while waiting for the truck to warm up.
“It was like a bloody movie circus.”
By the time the fire was put out, the house was in ruins.
“I have never seen a fridge crumble,” she said.
Afterwards she was taken to her bedroom and shown the soot around her bed which would explain why she struggled to get up when her son was trying to get her out.
However, they were safe, her son’s daughter had been out for the night, and she had already taken her disabled sister back to a care facility on Tuesday so the family was physically fine.
However, now they are living off the kindness of neighbours and people reaching out to help them as they only have the clothes they were wearing.
The levels of kindness have left Christina filled with gratitude.
She said neighbours had been incredibly helpful and comforting.
Thys has also started a fundraiser for them to help tide them over while they deal with the insurance aspect.