WHAT started off as a happy children’s play day ended in sorrow at Ha-Makoae in Qacha’s Nek recently when six children were killed in a fire when their playhouse (mantloane) caught fire.
A one-year-old child survived the fire but suffered severe injuries and is now admitted in hospital. The deceased children reportedly suffered third degree burns but were all suffocated by the smoke.
A relative of some of the deceased children who spoke on behalf of the bereaved families told the Lesotho Times that one boy and five girls aged from six to eight years were killed in the fire.
Manamolela Matoetoe said the deceased children, one boy and five girls, are aged between eight and six while the surviving one, a boy, is aged one-year and six months.
Three of the children are from the Matoetoe family, two from the Takanas, one from the Mohale while the surviving toddler is from the Pheko family.
Mr Matoetoe said the seven children lit the fire in the playhouse for cooking but the shack built from plastic, cupboards and thatch grass caught fire.
Mr Matoetoe said that by the time the adults realised that the children were in danger, the whole structure was engulfed by the fire and the children lay unconscious in the flames.
“The structure was about 300 metres away from the family compound and it was too late when the adults realised that the children were in danger,” Mr Matoetoe said.
“They rushed to the burning house but when they got there nothing could be done to rescue children. It was a windy day so the whole structure caught fire very quickly,” Mr Matoetoe said.
Mr Matoetoe said eye witnesses were still terrified by the scenes as the children were burnt before their eyes.
“We have heard horrific tales from those who were present who narrated how the bodies lay motionless in the burning debris.”
He said that the children were rushed to Machabeng government hospital in Qacha’s Nek where one was declared dead on arrival. Due to the degree of their burns, the other children were referred to Queen ‘Mamohato Memorial Hospital.
However, four children also died on the way while the other child died the following day.
“The ambulance left Qacha’s Nek at around 11pm on the day of the accident and arrived in Maseru at 4am the next morning. By that time four more children had died. The sixth child who was admitted in the intensive care unit due to the seriousness of his burns died a day later. The youngest is recovering well in hospital,” Mr Matoetoe said.
He said that the parents of the deceased children are traumatised by the deaths of their children and added that they will be buried in a joint ceremony on Saturday.
“Their parents are devasted. The households of the children are so sombre. The families have agreed on a joint funeral service,” Mr Matoetoe said.
He added that the families have received condolences and support from the office of the Qacha’s Nek district administrator, the ministry of Social Welfare and the Lesotho Red Cross Society (LRCS).
The Qacha’s Nek district administrator, Ndiwuhleli Ndlomose, on Saturday visited the bereaved families.
Mr Ndlomose said he was saddened by the deaths.
“What has befallen these families is terrible. We are deeply sorry for their loss. Their children died tragically,” Mr Ndlomose said.
Mr Ndlomose said his office has donated six coffins and a few other necessities.
The Queen ‘Mamohato Memorial Hospital spokesperson, Mothepane Thahane, said the deceased children sustained third degree burns injuries but were also suffocated by the smoke.
Mrs Thahane said the hospital admitted an increased number of burn cases in the past year. She however, could not immediately give the number of the burn cases but said that the hospital management was concerned about the increase.
She said that sometime this year, they had to amputate a two-year old child who also suffered extreme burns.
“Cases of burnt children are common at the hospital. This one however is a national crisis. We are really touched by the loss,” Ms Thahane said.
Police spokesperson, Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli, confirmed the accident and said that police have opened an investigation into the accident.
“It is suspected that the children’s playhouse caught fire while they were cooking. They could have failed to escape due to their young age. However, police investigations will find out what really happened,” Supt Mopeli said.