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Update: Victim of Florida fire identified

Hennie will be missed by all

The 74-year old man who died in the devastating house fire in Florida yesterday (19 September) has been identified.

He was Hennie van Wyk, a former State Prosecutor, who had resided in the Florida area since 1976. According to Arthur Nel, a long-time friend, he was a well-known and respected figure in the neighbourhood. “We were friends since 1995 when we discovered we shared a love of canaries. We walked a long road together and loved to visit and talk. He could tell very interesting stories and we laughed together a lot,” Nel said.

The aftermath of the devastating fire. Photos: Adéle Bloem

He added that he had spoken to Van Wyk on the phone earlier the same evening, and he seemed fine. “We received a call at approximately 11.30pm and he told me that he was sitting alone in the dark. It seemed that he only wanted to talk to someone a bit. Because we had a planned power outage, he asked us to phone him as soon as the power was back on, in order for him to switch back to his oxygen machine, because he was scared he would suffocate,” Nel said.

Nel said that, after saying goodbye to his friend, they went back to bed, and were woken by a huge explosion. “I thought it could be the substation in our street, but my wife said she had received a WhatsApp message saying that Hennie’s house was on fire. One of our other neighbours confirmed this and advised me not to come out and look.

Pierre van Wyk (son) and Arthur Nel (friend) were still in shock after hearing the bad news.

It took a lot of motivation and courage for me to come out this afternoon and see the devastation,” he said.

Nel said that, although it still feels unreal to him, it is a very sad day and he will miss his friend tremendously. “It will feel funny to pass his house and not see him standing outside,” he said.

Pierre van Wyk, Hennie’s son, was clearly shaken by the event and said, “We live in Pretoria and received a call from the domestic worker at approximately 12.55am shouting that the house was on fire. After phoning the fire department, we rushed off to my father’s house. Everyone we spoke to said the same thing. They heard a loud explosion and then the house was engulfed by flames. It must have been a huge explosion, as glass pieces were strewn everywhere. Some of the neighbours came to see if they could help and went as far as breaking open the back door, but they could not go into the house, as it was filled with smoke,” he said.

Damage to the front of the house.

He said that his father lived alone in the house and refused to move out. “He lost his second wife in February this year and has been living alone in the house ever since, refusing to move out, telling us that the only way we would get him out of the house, would be when his body was taken out. He suffered from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and was on oxygen 24/ 7. Because we were very worried about him living alone, we arranged for a domestic worker to stay in the yard and help out where needed,” a clearly devastated Van Wyk said.

According to him, his dad was very fond of animals, and had three small dogs and two cats. He told the Record that none of the pets could be found, and that they suspect they also did not survive the fire.

Read the initial article here: Watch: Raging house fire in Florida claims a life

Van Wyk was also not satisfied with the Emergency Management Services who responded to the incident and claimed that they arrived approximately an hour after being called. “They arrived with three fire trucks, but it appeared that there was no water, and the fire hydrants were also of no use. We did tell them to open my father’s borehole, but because of the power outage, the water could not be pumped out. It is a feeling of utter helplessness, standing and watching the house burn down, knowing your loved one is inside, and not being able to do anything,” he said.

The aftermath of the devastating fire. Photos: Adéle Bloem

He said that his dad has always been fond of telling stories and could speak five different African languages. “He was a laugh-a-minute type of guy, always ready with a funny story. And, although he was a very straightforward person who was not afraid to say what he meant, he was always a just father. He lived for his children and grandchildren,” he said with a sad smile. He had four sons – Pierre, Hein, Riekert and Cassie (who died four months ago) – 10 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

“As soon as the funeral arrangements have been finalised we will inform friends and family,” he concluded.

Robert Mulaudzi, the spokesperson for EMS responded to the claims made by Van Wyk and said, “According to our records, it took us 27 minutes from receiving the request for assistance to dispatching the required vehicles. We had a fire engine, a water tanker (in case the nearby fire hydrants were not working) as well as an air truck on scene.We will not respond to an emergency without water, the same as a soldier will not go to war without ammunition. From our side, we are satisfied with the way the incident was handled, and it was unfortunate that a life was lost.”

Do you perhaps have more information pertaining to this story? Email us at roodepoortrecord@caxton.co.za (remember to include your contact details) or phone us on 011 955 1130.

For free daily local news on the West Rand, also visit our sister newspaper websites 

Randfontein Herald

Krugersdorp News 

Get It Joburg West Magazine

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