‘Mammie, come fetch me, please!
Pregnant woman who died in fire had a foreboding – wanted to return home a week before the fire
Eight people, two households, one family. That is part of the bitter toll the recent Garden Route fires took on 29 October when flames engulfed parts of Farleigh, near Karatara outside Knysna.
Among these eight family members were two women, one of them eight months pregnant, and six children between the ages of 11 months and 12-years-old.
Three of the children who succumbed to the fire were Nataniel Oelf ’s own daughters aged five years, three years and 11 months respectively. His 12-year-old and 13-month-old nieces, and his two-year-old nephew were also among the family members lost to the fire. The 21-year-old pregnant woman was carrying Oelf’s brother’s child.
Besides being upset about the deceased’s photos being published without their permission, Oelf told Knysna-Plett Herald on Friday 2 November at the backpackers where he and surviving family members are currently being housed, that he still feels strong.
‘I’m not broken yet’
“I’m not broken yet, I’m trying to stay strong for the rest. It’s as though my heart hasn’t accepted what has happened although my mind knows they have all gone,” he said, describing the surreal situation.
According to Oelf the family’s Christian beliefs are helping them to work through the ordeal, and as a family they are standing together. Marlin Oelf, one of the surviving family members, added that crying has helped a lot. “It’s good to cry and to release those emotions. It helps to clear the head,” he said.
While the family was awaiting DNA test results on the remains of their lost ones in order to give each a proper burial, Oelf said at the time, there are many questions that need answering around what happened. “It is extremely hard to accept what happened, and unacceptable that nine family members (including the unborn child) could pass away in such a tragic way. But because we want to honour our family and mourn them properly we don’t want to focus on accusations or apportion blame at the moment,” the grieving father said.
Oelf was at work on the fateful day, and could not shed much light on what his family members might have gone through. He went to work that morning – at that point, he said, the fire had already been burning for almost a week, albeit far from their home at that stage.
Desperate calls home
Between 11:00 and noon on 29 October, the wind started picking up and he phoned his uncle, a Sanparks employee. “When the wind direction changed towards Farleigh I called to check how the fire was doing and if my place was okay,” Oelf said.
He said the fire reached Farleigh between 14:45 and 15:45 later that day. After a few desperate calls home and arriving at the scene he found that his father and brother had almost killed themselves trying to rescue the nowdeceased family members.
For the pregnant woman Andrea Bewee’s mother Monica Lourens, the loss of her firstborn, a granddaughter (13-month-old) and unborn grandchild is beyond comprehension. Bewee was living with her boyfriend in Farleigh, Lourens said. A few minutes into the interview Lourens burst into tears, overwhelmed by sorrow.
“My daughter was a gentle person and would have sacrificed anything for her little daughter and unborn child. She never pointed fingers and was never argumentative,” Lourens said. Bewee had recently been employed at Pick n Pay in Sedgefield, Lourens added.
According to Lourens her daughter wanted to and was supposed to “come back home” a week before the blaze, “but due to certain circumstances we couldn’t go fetch her”.
“Thinking about it now it is as though she had a foreboding something was going to happen. On the day of the fires she called me: ‘Mammie, come fetch me, the house next door is burning’. By the time we got there it was all over,” Lourens said.
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The 21-year-old Andrea Bewee and her 13-month-old daughter Aliyah Oelf, who surcombed in one of the burning Farleigh homes.