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19 December 2011

Girl fails to save brother from shack blaze

Image: Missy Francken, 9, tried her best to save her litle brother. Photo: Manqoba Ngidi

A little girl has lived to tell the tale of how she was forced to let go of her two-year-old brother’s hand while their home went up in flames.

Nine-year-old Missy Francken woke up surrounded by flames and immediately tried to save the life of her only brother De Niro.

Sadly, tiny De Niro will not see his third Christmas after burning to death at the Flamingo informal settlement home in Lansdowne on Sunday.

With shock still etched on her face and burn marks on her little feet, the brave child recalls how she clutched the hands of her brother as they stood encircled by flames.

The courageous girl says she hunted for a way out of the blaze, climbing through a window and being forced to leave her little brother behind.

“Ek het wakker geskrik en ek sien die vlamme [I woke up with a shock and saw the flames],”she says.

“Ek het sy hand gevat en toe het my voete begin brand [I took his hand and then my feet began burning].

“Ek het toe nog sy hand [I still had his hand then].

“Toe wil ek die venster oop gemaak het en kyk na die deur, maar kon nie daar gaan nie want die vlamme was groot [I wanted to open the window but then looked at the door but I couldn’t go there because of the big flames].

“Ek wou hom deur die venster vat… toe klim ek uit die venster en hy’t gehuil en ek moes sy hand los [I wanted to take him through the window. I climbed through the window and he was crying and I had to leave his hand].

And that was the last she saw of her brother.

Authorities say they are still unsure what caused the blaze but it is believed a fallen candle may have started the fire just before 6am.

Dad Shaun Francken, 38, who was busy gathering material to rebuild his home when the Daily Voice team arrived, says he was returning from a shop when he realised his home was burning.

“I left home [and went] to the garage nearby to buy candles and cigarettes because we didn’t have anything left,” explains the dad.

“When I came back, my sister told me the hok (shack) behind us was burning.

“There was black smoke but two seconds later it was too late to run inside my home.”

The children’s devastated mother Cynthia Liesing, 30, explains she was standing outside the two-bedroom shack when she realised her home was burning and couldn’t save her little boy.

“The next moment I saw my daughter but there were too much flames to save my child,” she says.

Neighbour Louis Louw, 38, tells in horror how he heard Missy’s desperate screams for help and then the sound of De Niro’s skull bursting.

“I heard the little girl screaming and I quickly got dressed,” he says.

“The girl climbed through the window but we couldn’t save the boy.

“We ran and fetched buckets of water and then we heard a ‘bang’ – it was the child’s skull bursting.”

Another neighbour, Berenice Petersen, 58, lost two of her dear dogs, Torrie and Tiny, in the fire but managed to save the life of her pit bull Tara.

“This is sad because I am living on this camp for 14 years and this is the first time we lose a child, and it’s a week before Christmas,” she says.

“We are sure this is a candle that caused this fire.”

Meanwhile, the City’s Fire and Rescue spokesperson Theo Layne says they are still unsure of the cause of the fire.

“A two-year-old boy died in the blaze but we have yet to determine the cause,” he says.

He says it took an hour to extinguish the flames with a total of 10 structures burnt.

Meanwhile, police have opened an inquest into the death of a man in a another shack fire at Sheffield Road, Philippi East, that left 97 people without shelter.

Cape Town Disaster Operations Centre head Wilfred Schrevian Evan Solomons-Johannes says there have been three other incidents of shack fires in the city since Friday.

The victims have been given food parcels, clothing, blankets and building material by City officials.

*This article was published in the Daily Voice