While the talk of the town in Joburg’s upmarket suburbs of Hyde Park, Dunkeld and Illovo is that a lone serial arsonist who breaks into homes, helps himself to food and leaves his mark by defecating in the house before setting it alight is on the loose, police have poured water on these claims.
Bramley police station commander Owen King said he is in charge of a large area which encompasses the suburbs in question, and is not aware of a serial arsonist operating in his jurisdiction.
“There is possibly a lot of stuff that happened and was never properly reported to us or went through other channels. But I can confirm that since January 1 2021 to date we received only three reports of house fires — one in Illovo, one in Hyde Park and one in Marlborough Gardens.
But residents aren’t convinced.
A woman in Sandton — who failed to respond to requests for more information — posted an angry account on her Facebook page, claiming that 13 houses in the area had been burnt down in the area in the past 12 months.
She claimed the perpetrator was a lone arsonist.
“Apparently he breaks in around 3am, helps himself to booze and food from the fridge and then sets the couches on fire … Last two were only three weeks apart. A family member was in the house upstairs sleeping with their baby and toddler. Apparently the guy watches the owners through the window,” the woman wrote in a post that has gone viral.
Inspector Morris Zwane, acting divisional chief of fire safety and research, said while he was not sure of an arsonist at large, he could confirm that there had been “a lot of fires in the area”.
Zwane said arson was not easy to detect and prove and that a lot of evidence — such as a fire burning faster than expected, burning from the ground up with intense heat and incendiary devices or the presence of an accelerant — was needed before it could be concluded that a fire was deliberately set.
The ward councillor for the area, Martin Williams, said he had heard about the arson cases and was trying to confirm them.
Andre Snyman, founder and head of eBlockwatch, said he had been alerted to suspicions of an arsonist but had been asked to hold off on making any information public by insurance companies and investigators “who obviously want to catch the guy”.