Eighteen people died when a fire swept through a home for the elderly near Johannesburg, paramedics said today, but dozens were rescued through windows and dragged from bed still on mattresses.
The fire erupted late yesterday and gutted the Pieter Wessels home for the elderly in Nigel, on the eastern outskirts of Johannesburg.
Seventeen people burned to death, while a woman died of a heart attack after being rescued, private emergency services provider Netcare 911 spokesman Chris Botha told AFP.
Charlotte Maxeke Hospital said one man had been airlifted for treatment and was in critical condition with burns on 50 per cent of his body. Two others were seriously injured, Botha added.
Louis Gouws, medical institution director for Meals on Wheels, which operates the facility, said rescue workers and nurses carried residents out of the building, pulled them through windows and dragged them out on mattresses as flames jumped one metre (three feet) over the roof.
"Burglar bars were cut off and we released the patients through the windows. We ran into the building but there was so much smoke you could not see a thing," he told AFP.
"You couldn't even see half a metre in front of you. And the smoke was so bad that you became very weak. Even if you run in there, you don't have the strength," Gouws said.