Fire swept through a squatter camp under a bridge in Salt River, on Tuesday night, destroying 14 shacks and leaving some 50 people homeless.
Fire and Rescue Services spokesman Theo Layne, said firefighters had got to the scene just after 7.30pm.
No injuries were reported. The cause of the fire is unknown at this stage.
Simone Ligwa, 21, who stays in the camp under the Vootrekker Road bridge, near Foundary Road, with her two-year-old child, said the fire had started after 7pm.
They had been huddled near a drum fire trying to stay warm.
The wind had blown flames from the brazier towards the shacks, setting them on fire, she said.
The inhabitants asked the company opposite the station, Federal Guarding, to call the fire department.
But by the time firefighters got there all but one of the shacks had burnt down.
In the cold and the wet, following last night’s rain, the camp’s inhabitants tried to salvage their possessions, but many had seen their clothes and identity papers go up in smoke.
Some managed to find enough dry materials to build two makeshift shelters. Others sat near their destroyed shacks trying to stay warm near a fire.
The camp is on railway land – some of the homes were little more than scraps of zinc sheeting and wood, others well-built wendy houses – with no electricity or running water.
The inhabitants walk a kilometre to get water in Woodstock. And they say with no toilets, they relieve themselves in bushes and use a spade to put their faeces in a bag then throw it on the railway lines.
Garbage has piled up in the area over the past few years. A stench lingers over the foul mound and residents say it’s infested with rats. A woman, who did not want to be named, said they had tried putting their rubbish in municipal bins, but it hadn’t been collected by garbage trucks, and the bins had now been stolen.
Ward 57 councillor Patrick Chapple was at the scene of the fire last night. He said Jubilee Community Church was collecting food for the inhabitants. Federal Guarding is giving them soup.
Area north Mayco member Suzette Little said the City could not service the camp because it was Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) land.
“The structures are built on privately owned land and the City cannot legally provide services. Please therefore approach Prasa, the landowner, for a response.”
Riana Scott, spokeswoman for Metrorail – Prasa’s commuter service – said vacant Prasa land had been documented so it could be leased or developed.
Metrorail tried to clean up rail reserves twice a year, weather and resources permitting.
“Metrorail continues to remove informal dwellers on a rotational basis from scores of stations,” she said.
The inhabitants of the camp are appealing for donations of food, water and clothing.