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Man hid in freezer to try escape flames in fatal house fire

28 September 2016, 18:41 Tammy Petersen, News24

Cape Town - The man killed in a fire in Kuils River on Wednesday had tried to escape the flames by hiding in a chest freezer.

Emergency services found the body of Heinrich Francis, 30, in the early hours of the morning after the inferno was extinguished.

His limbs were dangling out of the appliance in the Wendy house where he lived alone.

Francis’s daughter, Renecia Hartley, 10, lived in the main house on the property. She died in the Eerste River Hospital from smoke inhalation.

His mother Shirley Ruiters, 50, and siblings Farren, 23, and 6-year-old Shiloh, are being treated at Tygerberg Hospital.

'Nothing we could do for Heinie'

A neighbour, who asked not to be named, said she woke up when Shirley’s partner Cedrick Pietersen banged at her door in Abbey Street shortly before 01:00.

"He had jumped through a window and shouted for help because the house was on fire. We flew out of bed and ran next door. By then, Heinie’s place was already up in flames," she said, her soot-covered hands shaking.

The door to the house was stuck and her husband, armed with a hammer, had tried to break it down.

"When we eventually got inside, everyone was unconscious. The neighbours started to drag the bodies out of the house and onto the pavement. We covered them with wet towels and blankets. But there was nothing we could do for Heinie," the tearful woman said.

His Wendy house was completely destroyed. Amongst the rubble lay groceries, colouring books and Renecia’s clothes. 

The Wendy house was completely destroyed. (Tammy Petersen, News24)

'Kind, helpful young man'

The house, garage and two cars were badly damaged.

"They found him in the freezer. When I saw him, I was shattered. He was a kind, helpful young man who was handy with any tool. The way he died was horrific."

Fire services spokesperson Liezl Moodie said it was believed the blaze was caused by smoking.

Pietersen’s mother, Evelina, was trying to salvage what remained of the family’s belongings on Wednesday morning.

She said her son escaped wearing nothing but his sleeping shorts.

"But that is the last thing on his mind. He hasn’t left Shirley’s side since they were admitted," she said.

Her son's hands were badly burnt and he had suffered cuts to his chest from when he jumped through the bedroom window to get help.

Police spokesperson Constable Noloyiso Rwexana said an inquest docket had been opened.

The kitchen of the main house was damaged by the smoke and fire. (Tammy Petersen, News24)

- News24


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