Neighbour snatches family from fire
Last Thursday night, Jonathan Penn and his heavily pregnant wife Simone put their children and themselves to bed early due to unscheduled load-shedding, which plunged their flat on the third floor of Glen Manor in Glenhazel into darkness.
The couple ate an early dinner while it was still light enough to see, and were tucked up in bed by 18:30 with their two children, Judah, 5, and Ayden, 3, in the main bedroom with them.
Simone had lit candles to provide some soft ambient lighting, including a vanilla scented Yankee Candle on the mantle.
Sometime later, the family was shaken awake by frantic, loud banging on their front door and screams to get out.
The Penns were oblivious to the fire which had broken out in their kitchen just a few doors away.
Neighbours Marlon Nathan and his daughter, Tali, were arriving home after fetching takeaways when they saw rising flames in the kitchen of the flat next door to theirs. Had they been a few minutes earlier, they wouldn’t have seen the fire.
“As we rounded the stairs and turned left, we saw flames and thick black smoke coming from Jonathan and Simone’s kitchen. We dumped our bags and takeaways, and rushed to try get them out of there,” said Tali, 23.
Working together, the father and daughter team sprang into action and began screaming and knocking at the door to the flat. Pandemonium ensued as the family jumped out of bed and were greeted by a wall of smoke.
Simone, who writes a blog titled Mothers’ Nature, related her experience the next day. “In the glass windowpane above the front door we could see burning orange reflections. We all started to cough. We couldn’t breathe. The children were screaming. Jonny was trying to pull us away from the flames and the smoke into the lounge. He was scared the blaze was in the passage. He knew not to touch the handles. He knew not to open any doors. He thought we were trapped.
“I fumbled with the keys, one arm over my mouth. I couldn’t remember how keys worked. I couldn’t remember how the door worked.”
She told the SA Jewish Report that at that moment, she feared for their lives.
As Marlon was about to kick down the front door, it opened, and frantically, he pulled Simone, Judah, and Ayden out. The little girl, disorientated, ran back inside when she couldn’t see her father through the smoke. Marlon ran headlong into the smoke to retrieve her.
Tali, a student nurse currently working the COVID-19 wards at Milpark Hospital, said, “I’ve seen my share of trauma, but it’s entirely different when you see your father dash into a fire.”
Once the family was safe, Marlon said his focus turned to extinguishing the fire which was getting out of control.
“My priority was first to get the family out of the flat, and then to contain the spread of the fire. There are 88 flats with many elderly residents. I had no time to think about anything other than putting out that fire,” he said.
Jonathan and Marlon ran through the building collecting fire extinguishers to battle the flames.
Security guard Prince Elliot used large buckets of water to put out the last of the fire.
A distraught Judah was worried about his two birds, Tweety and Koko, whom he had left behind in all the commotion. He was calmed when a firefighter much later appeared clutching a perfectly intact bird cage containing two finches.
“That was when I broke down. Every single Penn was safe and accounted for,” said Simone.
The family believe a surge caused by the power outage caused a spark which ignited the fire. “We suspect a spark landed on a large tablecloth I had folded in the kitchen,” said Simone.
Relieved and grateful, she said, “I think Hashem sent angels in the form of Marlon and Tali, and then Prince. But of course we owe everything to Marlon. We owe him our life. He and Tali appeared at the exact right moment. I shudder to think what five minutes either way would have meant.”
Marlon, 56, who has been treated for smoke inhalation said, “I’m not a hero. I just did what anybody in that situation would’ve done.”
He was meant to be in Israel for his daughter’s wedding, but cancelled his trip the day before the fire. His daughter says she now knows why. “He was meant to be here to save lives,” she said.
“I believe the family was minutes away from dying. The smoke was so heavy and thick, they would have died in their beds. They wouldn’t have got to the front door. You could hardly see them when they came out. It was scary,” said Marlon.
A firefighter told the SA Jewish Report it could have ended very differently. “This was a potentially deadly fire. One flat can take out the building. There are many different people living there with different needs, including elderly in wheelchairs. There is a petrol station next to it and restaurants. It was potentially very dangerous.”
The Penns say their experience has taught them a lot about fire prevention. They recommend keeping a fire extinguisher, installing smoke alarms, turning off the mains when the power is cut, and installing surge plugs for appliances.
Both the Penns and the Nathans are living with family members while their homes are cleaned and repaired.