A 11-month-old baby died from suspected smoke inhalation at Bulawayo’s Sizinda Flats while her mother is fighting for life at Mpilo Central hospital after their apartment caught fire yesterday morning.
Portia Makuva, 29, whose husband died last month, was rushed to hospital after the fire brigade crew went into the burning house and found her unconscious under a running shower with her dead child next to her. Bulawayo chief fire officer Richard Peterson yesterday said arson or suicide could not be ruled out.
Neighbours who climbed up a balcony, broke through steel burglar bars and smashed down a door with axes and hammers, said all doors were locked. Prince Ncube, a witness, said the incident occurred at around 10AM. Ncube said he was relaxing with friends behind Makuva’s flat when they saw smoke billowing out of her house. “We ran to her front door and saw more smoke pouring out of the house through the locked door,” said Ncube. He said they banged on the door and called out to Makuva, who did not respond. “We ran around and found hammers and axes and tried to break down the front door. We failed because the door had become red hot. We couldn’t bear the heat,” he said. They then climbed up the walls onto the balcony. “We pulled a hose pipe from next door to try and put out the fire which had spread to the balcony, which is adjacent to the bathroom,” he said.
Ncube said the searing heat from the flames was unbearable. He said he was blinded by the smoke, which made him cough as he started shouting Makuva’s name. “We could hear the baby crying and the mother started responding. Unfortunately the doors were closed. Intense heat was coming from the inside doors which had also turned red with heat,” said Ncube. He said when they finally opened the bathroom door, through the thick smoke, they could make out Makuva huddled under a running shower with her baby. Ncube said the heat still prevented them from advancing into the house. He said the fire brigade arrived and took over. Ward 21 Councillor Reuben Matengu said he called the fire brigade when he heard about the fire, but they were already at the scene.
Peterson said: “We’re still to determine the cause of the fire, although we can’t rule out arson or suicide.” He urged residents to immediately notify the fire brigade when a fire breaks out. “A lot of damage occurs during the period when people will be deciding how to put it out. The first action to take is to phone the fire brigade, close all other doors to confine the fire in one room and then try to put it out, if possible,” he said.