Joburg Public Safety

Photo via Twitter: @CoJPublicSafety

Johannesburg fire still raging because ‘paper and boxes were stuffed in ducts’

“Our heroes passed away trying to save people in the building. They rescued 13 people.”


Joburg Public Safety

Photo via Twitter: @CoJPublicSafety

The fire which started on Wednesday morning in the Bank of Lisbon building in downtown Johannesburg is still raging, as firefighters attempt to secure the area and douse the flames from the streets below.

The deadly blaze which has already claimed the lives of three firefighters shows no signs of abating. What started as the result of a suspected electrical fault on the 23rd floor of the building has now engulfed most of the high-rise, with flames travelling through the air ducts down to the 9th floor.

Local government to blame for building fire

Local government has faced fierce criticism over its refusal to condemn the building, which has flouted safety regulations since 2014. The building, situated at Pixley ka Isaka Seme Street in the Johannesburg CBD, housed two government departments, namely the Gauteng Health Department and Human Settlements Department.

The Public Servants Association (PSA) and the National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) both say this tragedy could have been avoided if their grievances were taken seriously.

In August, the unions staged a complete shutdown of the building, calling for the relocation of workers. Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi addressed the demonstrator’s concerns – saying he would personally support the motion to have the workers moved.

But the workers weren’t moved – their pleas falling on deaf ears.

Why can’t the fire be extinguished?

Johannesburg Emergency Management Services acting fire chief, Arthur Mqwa, spoke to Sowetan Live on the city’s inability to extinguish the fire. Mqwa grieved the loss of life and lambasted the building’s management for shoddy workmanship, saying:

“Our heroes passed away trying to save people in the building. They rescued 13 people. When we arrived at the building the fire doors to the emergency routes were open and they were not supposed to be open.

The fire spread through the ducts and went down … because there were papers and boxes in those ducts. What I am trying to say is that the building was not sealed. It did not comply with the EMS (Emergency Management Services) by-laws.”

Gauteng Infrastructure MEC Jacob Mamabolo confirmed that the building had a safety rating of 21% – in order for a building to be considered safe and compliant, it needs a score of 85% or higher.

Firefighters say with the condition the building is in, it could take up to 3 days to extinguish the fire.