Law graduate dies as fire destroys students’ house

stuBURNT OUT: Police forensics experts search the Grahamstown house where the student died. Picture: DAVID MACGREGOR
BURNT OUT: Police forensics experts search the Grahamstown house where the student died. Picture: DAVID MACGREGOR

A RHODES University law graduate died tragically yesterday while trying to escape from a burning communal house he shared in Grahamstown with other students.

Traumatised neighbours said they had heard frantic screaming after midnight as the Durban honours student, 21, tried to get out of the Milner Street house.

Nicole van der Merwe said she would never forget the terrifying and painful screams she heard as he tried to escape the blaze.

“It was frightening listening to the screams. You could smell the burning,” she said.

Four other students living in the house escaped injury and were taken for specialised counselling.

Most of the house, which has burglar bars across all its windows, was destroyed in the blaze.

A relative of the student and two other people arrived at the house yesterday, before leaving with counselling psychologist Dr Colleen Vassiliou of Rhodes University.

The body of the unnamed student was found by firefighters in the badly damaged house and has not yet been identified by next of kin.

The four students who escaped the midnight blaze unharmed in the clothes they were wearing are also receiving counselling.

Students and staff have responded to appeals to help them and donations of clothing have been received at the university’s student affairs building.

The gutted house was cordoned off and under police guard yesterday, awaiting forensics experts from Port Elizabeth.

The cause of the fire is unknown.

The dead student and his housemates were sleeping when the fire is thought to have broken out in the kitchen and spread quickly through the house.

Police spokeswoman Captain Mali Govender said an inquest docket had been opened after a man in his early 20s had been found in the house.

“All the others managed to escape to safety,” Govender said.

Rhodes University spokeswoman Catherine Deiner confirmed that a student had died tragically last night.

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