By Pamela Shumba/ Thubelihle Mabhena/ Bongani Ndlovu
THREE children were burnt beyond recognition when a hut caught fire under unclear circumstances at Kernburg Village in Umguza District yesterday.
The horrific incident occurred at around 8AM. It was followed by three other fires during the day in Bulawayo, where two houses burned down and passengers in a commuter omnibus cheated death when the vehicle burst into flames.
The charred bodies of the children in the Umguza fire were recovered by police at around 12PM.
Junitah Khanye, 44, told of how she left her homestead to fetch water about three kilometres from the homestead, leaving her two children and a grandchild in the hut.
Villagers told Chronicle Lungelo Khanye,4, his 18-month brother Thompson and their niece Thoko (surname not given) also aged four, were reduced to black stumps by the inferno.
When Chronicle visited the homestead, the hut was still smouldering.
Hostile relatives later chased away the news crew and prevented them from taking pictures.
Police had just taken away the remains of the three children.
The grief stricken Khanye family, their neighbours and relatives were still trying to come with terms with the tragedy.
With tears streaming down her cheeks, Junitah Khanye told Chronicle that no one knew what started the fire.
“I woke up early in the morning and cooked porridge for them. At about 8AM I left them to sleep as I rushed to fetch water about three kilometres away. While I was still there I received a call from my nephew’s wife, telling me to come back home,” she said, choking back a sob.
“I thought she wanted me to pass through her homestead and I told her I was on my way, but my heart started beating fast when she told me to rush to my homestead.”
She said when she got home she was shocked to see the hut in which she had left her children engulfed by flames.
“Scores of people were already gathered around the hut. They stood there and watched helplessly. They could not do anything because the roof of the hut had collapsed. I was told that my two children and my grandchild had died in the fire.
“I am so devastated. I can’t even imagine what could have happened,” said Khanye.
A relative, Sine Khanye, said he received a call from a neighbour telling him of the tragedy in the morning.
“We made a report to the police. They attended the scene and took the remains to the mortuary.
“We suspect that the children lit a candle or made a fire, resulting in the hut burning down. It’s unfortunate that nobody heard them scream. When neighbours saw the fire, it was already too late,” he said.
Zanu-PF Matabeleland North chair-person Richard Moyo confirmed the incident, saying the government would assist the family to bury their children.
“It’s very sad. We’re really sorry about what happened and this is a loss to Umguza District and Matabeleland North Province. The provincial administrator has been informed and the government is planning to assist the family,” said Moyo.
Meanwhile, property worth thousands of dollars was reduced to ashes yesterday afternoon when a gas stove exploded while a woman from Nkulumane 5 was cooking.
Gladys Zata, 63, sustained minor injuries on her hands after the incident.
Zata, a hypertension patient, was detained for observation at a clinic in Nketa after her blood pressure skyrocketed following the incident.
In a related incident, a thatched double storey house in Riverside was destroyed by fire when an unknown person started a veldfire that later spread to the house.
Bulawayo Chief Fire Officer Richard Peterson confirmed the incident.
He said no fatalities were recorded but all the property in the house was destroyed.
In yet another fire incident, seven people escaped unhurt last night when a kombi they had boarded burst into flames at the corner of Leopold Takawira Avenue and Robert Mugabe Way.
The survivors said they were from a workshop at Holiday Inn and boarded the kombi to the city.
Pamela Simari one of the passengers said when they got to the intersection the driver told them the kombi had run out of fuel.
She said the conductor went to buy fuel at a nearby service station armed with a jerry can. “When he came back he and the driver lifted the front seat and started pouring fuel into the carburettor. At that instant I warned them that they would cause a fire and burn us. Even as I spoke, the front side burst into flames and I rushed out,” said Simari.
She said she lost her right shoe and her friend escaped with singed hair. Chronicle