Swakop fire victims request fire-fighting training

07 Sep 2014 12:20pm
By Paulus Shiku
SWAKOPMUND, 07 SEP (NAMPA) – Residents of the Mondesa residential area who lost property in fires, have requested the municipality to provide them with fire-fighting training to put out fires at an early stage.
Since the beginning of this year, approximately 300 people were left homeless by shack fires in Walvis Bay and Swakopmund alone.
Just last week, 69 residents from the Benguela area of Mondesa in Swakopmund were left homeless after an inferno destroyed 22 shacks.
The victims lost money, clothes, beds, schoolbooks, food, documents and other properties.
They are now staying with friends and family, and some in a small church.
Speaking to Nampa here on Friday, a group of residents suggested that the municipality train them on how to fight blazes, and give them fire-fighting equipment so that they can save their houses in case the fire brigade shows up late.
Alternatively, they want members of their communities employed as fire fighters, so that when fires break out they do not have to wait for fire fighters to come from the fire station in town.
“A lot of people have no knowledge of fighting fires. When a fire starts they just do the little they can while waiting for the fire fighters, who in most cases come late and not prepared,” said one man.
They also said there is a need for more fire hydrants in residential and informal settlements to supply water for fire fighting.
“Sometimes the fire brigade will show up at a fire and rush back to town to fetch water when it runs out of water. In the meantime the fire is spreading to more shacks,” a woman said.
Residents allege that no fire here as ever been put out on time before destroying properties.
However, Swakopmund Fire Chief, Adri Goosen indicated when approached for comment that some fires were put out on time, but most could not as the wood and card boxes used to build houses burn fast on windy days.
On the latest fire incident at Benguela, he said although no property could be saved from that inferno, the fire brigade responded on time - having received the call at 15h29 and arriving on the scene at 15h39.
Fire victims also suggested that the municipality build cheap houses and rent them out to those currently living in shacks, in order to reduce the number of shacks on erven.
“We have money to rent affordable houses. If they can just build some for us, we can pay the same amount we give to our current landlords. That way the municipality can make money and solve the shack problem,” another female resident contributed.
They said the town authority’s directive that there should only be three shacks in one yard is difficult to maintain, because “life is tough for poor people, and families and friends cannot refuse them a place to stay”.
“The latest fire was caused by a gas stove, so we, the community, need to be more careful about fire - if one person makes a mistake then the rest of us are in trouble, because the fire spreads to everyone's house,” another female resident said.
“Now we will face the water and electricity bills that we did not pay because our salaries are lost in the fire. It was payday, and some of us had money at home - all of it is gone (lost) now. We hope they will understand and give us enough time to pay,” said another woman.
Approached for comment on Saturday, town mayor Juuso Kambueshe sympathized with the residents, saying the authority, and Government is looking at a bigger solution to get rid of shacks and avoid the disasters caused by fires.
The politician said their suggestions put forward are brilliant, and the authority will soon convene a community meeting to look at those ideas and see if it can be implemented.
He also denied accusations that the fire brigade is always late, saying if it happens it could be that they received the call late.
On the fire hydrants, Kambueshe said the authority had fire hydrants installed in some areas, but these were abused by residents who illegally used water from there, and as such some were closed.
“I urge the community to also cooperate and take good care of fire equipment if they want to be trusted with them,” he said.
Kambueshe said there are fire-fighting volunteers at the station, but they are not always available because they might be doing paid work somewhere else, but there always are some people to assist the fire brigade team.
The mayor noted that the victims received blankets, mattresses, food and a few building materials from the Mayoral Fund to assist them to recover from the fire.
Though they acknowledge receiving assistance, residents said it was not enough for everyone as they are many - more people still need help.
Meanwhile, Erongo Regional Governor Cleophas Mutjavikua has been vocal on the issue of shack fires lately, calling all regional and local authority councillors to make it their priority that people have brick houses and move out of shacks.
Speaking at the official opening of the Walvis Bay Rural Constituency office last month, Mutjavikua said the region should declare war on the eradication of shacks by soliciting funds to build houses.
“If you go see President Hifikepunye Pohamba or Regional and Local Government Minister Charles Namoloh, tell them ‘comrades, we have a problem of shacks burning’. We can never be comfortable until this problem is solved,” the governor informed the councillors at the event.