Johannesburg, South Africa – A horrifying fire that engulfed a five-story building in central Johannesburg has resulted in the tragic loss of more than 70 lives, including several children, according to a statement released by the city’s emergency services on Thursday.
The blaze, which occurred overnight, also left 52 individuals injured, some of whom suffered from smoke inhalation. Emergency Management Services spokesman Robert Mulaudzi reported that these injured victims were swiftly transported to nearby hospitals for urgent medical attention.
Mulaudzi solemnly conveyed, “We have now 73 fatalities and 52 people injured who were transported to various healthcare facilities for further medical care.”
Heartbreakingly, the victims included at least seven children, with the youngest being less than two years old. Some bodies were left so severely burned that identification became an immense challenge.
Firefighters were able to successfully extinguish the flames, and are currently engaged in the process of dampening down any remaining residual heat. Simultaneously, search and recovery operations are ongoing within the premises, as the authorities move meticulously from floor to floor.
“We are moving floor by floor conducting these body recoveries,” Mulaudzi informed local broadcaster ENCA.
Witnesses at the scene observed emergency personnel removing charred bodies from the building, tenderly placing them under blankets and sheets on the street outside.
Mulaudzi expressed his grief, stating, “It is indeed a sad day for the city of Johannesburg… over 20 years in the service, I’ve never come across something like this.”
As investigations into the cause of the inferno begin, initial speculation points towards candles used for lighting as a potential ignition source within the structure. Mgcini Tshwaku, a member of the city’s mayoral committee in charge of public safety, highlighted the likelihood of this cause.
The building, which had been evacuated, is situated in an impoverished area that was once part of South Africa’s bustling business district. Over time, it had transformed into an informal settlement, suggesting that many occupants might have been living there unlawfully.
Tshwaku detailed, “Inside the building itself there was a (security) gate which was closed so people couldn’t get out… Many burned bodies were found stashed at that gate.”
The tragic incident brings to light the issue of illegal occupation of abandoned buildings, a pervasive problem in the city center. Authorities suspect that criminal syndicates may be capitalizing on this situation by collecting rent from occupants.
In this particular building, it’s estimated that more than “80 shacks” were erected, housing multiple families. The quick spread of the fire was attributed to the combustible materials used in the makeshift dwellings.
This heart-wrenching fire stands as one of the deadliest incidents in recent South African history and is a somber reminder of the risks associated with informal settlements in the city.
The nation had previously witnessed a devastating fuel tanker blast near Johannesburg that claimed 34 lives in December of the preceding year. In a separate incident in June, flames ravaged a dilapidated building, resulting in the death of two children under the age of 10 who were trapped in an apartment.
Our thoughts and condolences go out to the victims and their families during this difficult time.