Albow Gardens residents curb fire in council flat


When an electrical fault sparked a fire at Joan McArthur’s flat in Albow Gardens she feared losing the few possessions she owns. But when neighbours were alerted to the flames licking the bedroom window they acted quickly, preventing the fire from spreading.

“It was the worst experience of my life I swear. You can’t imagine it unless you were there,” said Ms McArthur, sitting in the living room of her Block B Albow Gardens flat.

On a Saturday evening two weeks ago, an electrical short circuit blew a plug in the bedroom. The room, which Ms McArthur rents to Thomas Heinsworth, a 59-year-old man on disability due to a stroke, was engulfed in flames within minutes. She was sitting in the living room with Annie Swigelaar, also a resident at Albow Gardens, when the fire started.

“We heard Thomas saying, ‘Help! help!’ but it came out ‘Aap, aap,’ then we just saw red and flames coming from his room. He had smelled something by the cupboard, and when he opened it, there were just flames,” said Ms McArthur.

She said the fire had started in the socket behind the cupboard. Ms McArthur, a 70-year-old pensioner who has been living in the flat for almost 30 years, grabbed Mr Heinsworth before escaping the flat. She said because he had suffered a stroke he hardly spoke with anyone and spent all his time in his room on his laptop.

“I think he must have been in shock, because he turned back to grab his cigarettes and not his laptop,” she said.

She said the neighbours were so quick to respond that they were already banging at the door when they wanted to get out.

“We had to tell them to move out of the way because we wanted to get out. Someone broke the bedroom window before it could burst from the flames and cut his arm in the process. They stuck the fire hose through the window. The smoke was so dense you couldn’t see your hands in front of your face,” she said.

Fire and rescue spokesman Theo Layne said the flat was damaged and the contents were destroyed in the fire.

“One adult male sustained lacerations to his arm, which fire and rescue service treated. The patient did not want to go to hospital. The probable cause of the fire was an electrical short circuit.”

Ms Swigelaar said it had taken the Brooklyn fire brigade five to ten minutes to arrive.

“About another ten minutes later Milnerton fire brigade arrived. There was a lot of water everywhere,” she said.

Mr Heinsworth sadly lost all his belongings in the fire and has only the clothes he was wearing on the day of the fire. He is staying with a neighbour until his room is cleared. The pungent smell of charred debris fills the air in Mr Heinsworth’s room, and the walls are blackened by soot.

Ms McArthur said the tragedy had demonstrated the community spirit of Albow Gardens.

“Everybody downs us wherever we go. What people don’t understand is that if anyone is sick or in need there is someone to help out. I would like to thank the community from the depths of my heart. I would’ve lost everything I worked for my whole life if it was not for them,” she said.