• Simone Penn

Last night my Flat caught Fire.

The following details the events of Thursday night, 16th July 2020:



Last night my flat caught fire and my neighbor saved my life. He also saved the lives of my husband, son, daughter, and unborn baby. HaShem sent an angel in the form of my neighbor at the exact right moment. Words fail to express my gratitude.


On Wednesday the 15th of July our power went off at 12 noon. I hadn’t cooked since Monday and we ate leftovers on Tuesday. The power stayed off for 18 straight hours so on Wednesday night we went to bed with ice cold cheese sandwiches in our bellies. By Thursday I was ready for a piping hot, home cooked dinner.


No luck.


After returning at 6am the power fled the coup once more at 2pm. My story begins upon its return. But more about that later.


A wonderful and kind friend made my family and I Thursday night dinner. She, too, was scheduled for a power-out and so delivered the gorgeous (and hot) meal at 4:30pm yesterday afternoon. Our electricity was still off so we ate a decent dinner at 5pm. Bathed. And got into bed with the kids at 6:30pm.


It had been a long day with no power and nothing to do in isolation so we were eager for an early night and “a good shlof’”. At 7pm the power came back on. We didn’t even move from our beds because everything was locked up and switched off. There was no point.


Everyone was sleepy and relaxed in bed. I had a few candles flickering on my bedroom mantle for light. It was kind of romantic.


I could smell the faint lingering of the “after-match-lighting” smoke. But the Yankee Candle I had lit was also coming to the end of its whik, so that could also be making a little smell. There was certainly more Yankee Candle vanilla smell than there was match smell.


At 7:45pm a noise made my heart drop into my toes. There was insane banging on the front door. I thought someone was breaking in. But we live in a flat, on the third floor? Maybe someone accidentally lost control of the trolley and it slammed into our door? No. The banging persisted. Frantic, loud banging. And my phone started to ring. It was the neighbour.


My husband jumped out of bed and as he opened the bedroom door he started to shout. That began the most traumatic and frantic few minutes of the ordeal. Of my life perhaps. It’s a bit of a blur.


I jumped out of bed. The kids followed me. I was met with a wall of smoke and darkness. 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.


The neighbor’s banging pressed on. They were shouting. We were shouting. But I heard: “OPEN THE DOOR!”


The door was double locked. The security gate was locked. 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. I stopped and said to myself: hold your breath, open the door.


I remembered what to do. I opened the latch chain. I unlocked the door. I got the key into the security gate. Everyone was still screaming. The banging. The smoke. The orange reflection.


An angel from HaShem named Marlon Nathan pulled me out of my flat and threw me away from the front door. He ran into the smoke behind me. ‘THE KIDS’, I screamed. “THE KIDS!”


Then Jonathan came out with judah. Then Marlon and little Aydi. But she got confused and ran back in screaming for her daddy. Marlon’s daughter Tali followed and yanked her out.


We were out and we were safe. Then the madness began.


Before I continue I must express the inexpressible. My gratitude to HaShem for his absolutely revealed miracles that led to our safe exit. A five minute difference on either end would have resulted in the unthinkable.


These are the miracles that I am able to articulate, every moment of life that we enjoy on this earth is a miracle...


1. My neighbors and saviors, Marlon and Tali Nathan, were not supposed to be in the building. Marlon was scheduled to fly to Israel on Wednesday night for his daughter’s wedding. Tali was supposed to be staying at a friend while her parents were in Israel. HaShem kept Marlon away from his own child’s wedding to save my children. HaShem kept them near to save us. 



2. We weren’t supposed to have load shedding but there was an unscheduled blackout so the Nathan’s went to get nandos for dinner. The food took obscenely long. HaShem delayed their order so the Nathan’s could walk into the passage at the exact right moment and see the flames. Enough flames for them to start hammering at our door, but not too many that it would have been too late for us. 

Had the food arrived on time they would have come home to a normal passage. Gone into their flat. And gone to sleep. We would have been sleeping too. 

Had the food taken any longer then by the time they arrived home it would have been too late. It’s the smoke that kills. 



3. I had taken out my double Pram to clean. We’re isolating so I kept it in the doorway of the flat because no one is coming in or out. It blocked the entire entrance. On Thursday afternoon Jonathan decided it needed to go back into storage. I disagreed but didn’t argue. HaShem helped Jonathan move that pram so we could get out of the flat. 



4. On nights that I lock up the flat I always close the doors: kitchen, bathroom, toilet, bedroom. On nights that Jonathan locks up, he doesn’t. One of our subtle little marriage quirks. 

Last night Jonny locked up. He doesn’t know why but he closed the kitchen door. 

HaShem closed that kitchen door so the fire would stay contained, so that we could get to the front door, to save us. 



5. On Monday I had my 34 week scan. The baby hadn’t grown in two weeks. Neither he nor I had gained a gram. I called another wonderful friend to ask her advice. She’s had experience with growth restricted babies. 

She told me what to do and also told me she would take challah and daven for me and my baby.


Fast forward to midnight last night; Dina asked me: “Sim, what time did this happen?” I said that they banged on my door to save us at exactly 7:46pm - I know this because while Marlon was banging, Tali was phoning. I have the missed call on my phone. 

She replied: “that’s the exact moment I was davening for you. I know because I Whatsapp my husband to come downstairs and say Amen”. 

HaShem heard Dina’s prayers and helped me open the door. My friend davened for me when she could have been davening for herself and HaShem sent angels to save us.


HaShem planned our safety long in advance. HaShem has planned everything.


We now think that the power outage caused a surge. This is apparently common. The fire fighter debriefing us said he had just come from an identical fire and had another to go to.


We suspect a spark landed on a large tablecloth I had, folded, in the kitchen. It’s the only possible explanation that makes sense in the scenario we witnessed. I hadn’t cooked since Monday.


A few friends of ours also reported surges which have taken out their appliances. Ours might also be fused, who knows. But after dissecting every conceivable possibility, and looking at what burned and what didn’t, we can only conclude a surge caused a spark which ignited the fire.


The hours after our exit flew by in, what seemed like, minutes.


Hatzolah, GAP, ZaKA, CSO, JHB Fire Dept, building staff, neighbors, friends, and family rallied to make sure we were all OK.


Jonathan and Marlon spent an hour running through the building fetching fire extinguishers and battling the flames. They emptied five. My husband is my greatest hero in life, always, but when I think about the fact that, instead of staying safely downstairs with his wife and children, he decided to go back and work until the fire was out I lose my breathe.


My heart broke when I watched the benevolent staff, who live in the building, running towards the fire in my flat with buckets of water. A true and unsung hero named Prince dealt the victory blow to the flames.


At the same time Tali and I attempted to evacuate the residents. She buzzed each unit from the reception of the building and I called whomever I could think of to tell them to get out. Somewhere in the frey emergency services were called.


People congregated in the parking lot with masks. Some still dressed from the day and some shivering in pajamas.


When I think back to those hours now HaShem sent an army of angels to us. Other heroes I remember from the blur include:


Yoni Nathan

Devorah Nathan

Jarred Landsmen Alon Joseph

Eli Louenstein

Yudi Singer

Uriel Rosen

Avi Hack

Sean Benningson

Tzvi Karp

Mordi Goldstein

Avigayil Goldstein

Janine Crouse

Lee Chaitowitz

Tarryn Rabin

Dan Forman

Gary “the firefighter”

My Mom

And countless others


The list is incomplete. Forgive me.


These people tested my pulse. Calmed my children. Brought us coke. Gave us socks. Put a yarmulka on my husband’s head. And they held us.


Finally it was time to tell my destraught son that it’s highly unlikely his birds were ok. He had been crying for an hour about Tweety and Koko. Then a man said: “did someone say something about a bird?” Judah heard and started to shout. Please, I said to him, please go see if you can find his birds. Two tiny finches in the shower.


I have no idea how those birds survived two hours of smoke exposure and the extinguisher powder.


But, all of a sudden a massive, uniform clad, firefighter appeared clutching a perfectly in-tact birds cage. And two tweeting finches. That was when I broke down. Every single Penn was safe and accounted for; including the including the Aves variety.


We made our way to my parents car and they brought us to my in laws, where we will stay.


There is so much more I could say but really all there is to say is: Ein Od Milvadoh. There is nothing other than HaShem.


[PS. If there is any advice we can give after this experience, other than to just cherish every moment of life for the miracle that it is, it would be to keep a fire extinguisher in your bedroom as well as the kitchen; and to install a smoke alarm in potentially “risky”’rooms.]


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