Families grieve as reinforcements battle building blaze in Joburg

06 September 2018 - 16:49 By Nomahlubi Jordaan
Central fire station commander, Chico Nyathi looks at a candle that is placed next to helmets of three firefighters who lost their lives trying to extinguish a fire at a building in Johannesburg CBD on September 6 2018
Central fire station commander, Chico Nyathi looks at a candle that is placed next to helmets of three firefighters who lost their lives trying to extinguish a fire at a building in Johannesburg CBD on September 6 2018
Image: Masi Losi

Three yellow firefighting helmets separated by flickering white candles.

This was the sombre scene at the Fairview Fire station‚ south of Johannesburg‚ on Thursday where the grieving families of the firefighters who died in the line of duty in a burning building assembled before going to see the remains of their loved ones.

Mduduzi Ndlovu‚ 40‚ Simphiwe Moropane‚ 28‚ and Khathutshelo Muedi‚ 37‚ have been officially named as those who died in the blaze that engulfed a Johannesburg CBD building on Wednesday.

Moedi and Moropane were from the Fairview Fire Station. Ndlovu worked at the Johannesburg Central fire station.

Johannesburg Mayor Herman Mashaba‚ who spoke to the families at the station‚ said they were hurt. “It’s still the early stages. They are hurt and we sympathise with them‚” he said.

He said the city was committed to assisting the families with all the support they required until the funerals of their loved ones.

“Sending off [the fire fighters] will not be the end of the relationship because they fell in the line of duty. They are the heroes of our city‚ of our country‚” said Mashaba.

Two of the fire fighters succumbed to smoke inhalation‚ while the third fell to his death from the uppermost floors of the building‚ which housed the Gauteng health and Housing departments and Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs offices.

“One of them was burnt beyond recognition‚” said an official who requested not to be identified.

The building‚ which did not comply with health and safety regulations‚ was still burning on Thursday afternoon‚ about 30 hours after the fire started. Firefighting reinforcements were called in to help contain the blaze from neighbouring municipalities‚ including Ekurhuleni‚ Tshwane and the OR Tambo International Airport fire department.

Emergency Services spokesperson Nana Radebe said the fire had spread to the 16th and 10th floors. “We have now put foam on all the floors that are not affected to prevent the fire from spreading to them‚” Radebe said.

Premier David Makhura said it was difficult to extinguish the fire because the building was tall and available equipment could only reach as high as the 8th floor.

“We have asked the defence minister to reinforce …. They often have helicopters they deploy in the mountains. Those helicopters can assist on the upper levels of that building.”

He said an investigation was under way into the cause of the fire.

The blaze that engulfed the upper levels of the Gauteng Health Department building in the Johannesburg CBD on September 5 2018, continued to spread to the lower levels of the building on September 6 2018.

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