Unknown hero of Maties building blaze
Exhausting battle by firefighters as south-easter fans 3 fires
A YOUNG man put his life on the line to rescue a woman from a burning Stellenbosch building, allowing her to climb down his body to safety.
The fire at Stellenbosch’s Wilcocks building in Van Ryneveld Street, part of Stellenbosch University, was just one of three blazes that broke out in greater Cape Town yesterday.
A howling south-easter fanned a mountain fire above Imizamo Yethu, but firefighters stopped the flames reaching any homes. And a paper factory in Bellville South caught fire.
In Stellenbosch the Wilcocks Building, where some of the university’s archives are stored, caught fire about 3pm.
Jeremy Coetzer, who works in the Old Main Building overlooking the Wilcocks, said he heard people shouting and his building’s fire alarm went off.
He ran outside. “There was such a lot of thick black smoke you couldn’t see what was happening. Everybody was running away.”
When he realised there was no fire alarm going off in the Wilcocks building he and a security guard ran in to raise the alarm.
Coetzer said they ran up the stairs to the third floor shouting: “There’s a fire!”
Then they found it hard to breathe and ran back outside.
There he spotted his wife Francisca and a group of students trying to persuade a woman to jump from the third floor on to a duvet they were holding.
A young man ran up to the second floor and stood on the window ledge below the woman, allowing her to climb down his body to the second floor from where they both fled to safety.
“He was a very courageous young man,” said Coetzer. “He got her safely through the second-storey window. Less than 10 minutes after that the thirdfloor room she’d been in was ablaze. No one could have got out of there alive then.”
Shortly afterwards the police and fire fighters arrived on the scene.
The identity of the young man is not known.
University spokesman Mohamed Shaick said the extent of the damage caused by the fire was unknown.
“We are planning for alternative accommodation for the affected people as from Monday,” he said. By 7pm the fire was completely doused but firefighters were still on the scene to ensure the situation remained contained.
Earlier yesterday a fire broke out on the slopes of the mountain above Imizamo Yethu, in Hout Bay, and the strong south-easter meant that firefighters had to look sharp to prevent it reaching any of the homes.
Helicopters helped douse the flames by bombing the mountainside with water.
Working on Fire spokesman Evelyn Holtzhausen said the organisation’s Newlands team was assisting a firefighting team from the Table Mountain National Park to fight the fire.
The co-ordinated effort saw 80 firefighters battling the flames. By late evening the fire was confined to the upper slopes of the mountain, although it had not been doused.
Philip Prince, fire manager of Table Mountain National Park, last night said the fire had been more or less contained despite a strong wind. Winds above the mountain were blowing at 50-60km/h and it was hard to get helicopters to the top.
“With these winds anything can happen,” said Prince, adding that most firefighters would stay on duty throughout the night to monitor the blaze.
Working on Fire has appealed to people to be “very careful” with open fires these holidays.
“At the moment the veld is very dry and these high winds provide ideal conditions for runaway fires,” he said.
In Bellville South Fire and Rescue’s Theo Layne said a fire in the Green Tissue fac- tory in Sacks Circle broke out in the early afternoon in the operations section of the building. A large quantity of paper was destroyed in the process. Three fire engines and a water tank were dispatched to the factory. There were no injuries.
WHOOSH: A firefighter struggles to close a fire hydrant after a pipe burst near the blaze which raged yesterday on the mountain above Imizamo Yethu in Hout Bay.
DRAMA: Stellenbosch University’s Wilcocks Building goes up in flames. The building was the scene of a dramatic rescue yesterday.
AFLAME: A helicopter drops a load of water on the mountainside fire above Imizamo Yethu in Hout Bay.