18 killed in South African retirement home inferno

August 2nd, 2010 - 1:25 pm ICT by IANS  

Johannesburg, Aug 2 (DPA) Eighteen people were killed and 84 left homeless when a fire gutted a retirement home in South Africa, emergency services officials said Monday.
The fire at the home in Nigel, around 50 km east of Johannesburg, broke out around 9 p.m. (1900 GMT) Sunday, a spokesman for Netcare 911 emergency service said.

Security guards raised the alert when they saw flames billowing from the single-storey Pieter Wessels retirement home and frail care centre.

The bodies of 17 people were found in the burnt-out building. Many of the victims had died in their rooms, after finding themselves trapped by the inferno.

One resident died of a heart attack shortly after the incident.

“It was actually horrific, how some of the people - the old frail little people - actually burned,” Netcare’s Chris Botha told Johannesburg’s 702 private radio station.

As firefighters battled the blaze, emergency workers managed to rescue 84 of the 102 residents, a number of whom were wheelchair bound.

Three were taken to hospital with serious injuries, one with serious burns.

The rest were taken to two local churches, where they were being treated by paramedics and local residents were arriving with donations of food, clothes and blankets.

The cause of the fire was not yet known. A police forensics team was at the scene to investigate and try to identify the victims, many of whom had been burnt beyond recognition.

The police’s task was complicated by the fact that most of the residents lost their identity documents in the fire.

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