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Catastrophic Building Blaze in Johannesburg Results in a Minimum of 73 Fatalities, Many Among the Homeless, Say Officials

by Chloe Baker
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Johannesburg Building Fire

A devastating fire broke out in a dilapidated five-story structure in Johannesburg during the nighttime hours, resulting in a minimum of 73 fatalities early on Thursday, according to emergency services in South Africa’s largest urban area.

Local government representatives indicated that some residents, dwelling in a labyrinth of improvised shacks and structures within the deteriorating building, resorted to leaping from windows to evade the blaze, potentially suffering fatal injuries in the process.

Eyewitness accounts revealed that desperate attempts were made to save children from the inferno, including instances where babies were hurled from windows. Tragically, one man succumbed to injuries sustained after plunging headfirst from a third-floor window onto the concrete sidewalk below.

Estimates suggest that the building could have housed up to 200 individuals, including occupancy in its basement, initially designed to serve as a parking garage. Some estimates propose an even higher occupancy rate.

Emergency service spokespersons confirmed that among the casualties were seven children, the youngest of whom was just a year old.

Municipal authorities reported that 141 families were impacted by the tragic event but could not provide an exact count of individuals present at the time of the fire’s inception. A notable portion of those inside were foreign nationals, according to official reports.

Search and rescue efforts were hampered by the building’s interior conditions, leading to delays in recovering additional victims. Multiple bodies were arranged along a nearby street, some secured in body bags, others covered with metallic sheets and blankets.

Robert Mulaudzi, a spokesperson for Johannesburg’s Emergency Services Management, stated that another 55 individuals sustained injuries during the incident, which originated around 1 a.m. in Johannesburg’s central business district. “I’ve never encountered an incident of this magnitude in over 20 years of service,” Mulaudzi remarked.

A female resident, who chose to remain anonymous, recounted her harrowing escape from the blaze with her adult son and a two-year-old child, lamenting the unknown fate of two additional children from her family.

Despite being Africa’s wealthiest city, Johannesburg’s downtown area is characterized by neglect and decay, featuring multiple abandoned and dilapidated structures often occupied by those desperate for housing. Such structures are colloquially known as “hijacked buildings” by local authorities.

The building at the center of this calamity was, reportedly, municipal property and designated as a heritage site, though not actively regulated by local governance. Historically, the edifice served as South Africa’s notorious “pass” office during the apartheid era, as indicated by a commemorative plaque at its entrance.

Gauteng Province’s police commissioner, Lt. Gen. Elias Mawela, urged the city to address the condition of approximately 700 similar abandoned buildings in Johannesburg’s central area.

Mulaudzi warned that the death toll is expected to rise as emergency personnel continue their search through the five floors, hampered by internal obstructions that complicated both rescue efforts and the residents’ own escape. He characterized the building’s interior as essentially an “informal settlement,” making it highly challenging for residents to flee the deadly fire.

The likelihood of additional survivors being discovered, hours after the blaze was initially reported, was described as “extremely low” by emergency services.

An adjacent resident, who chose to remain anonymous, conveyed to the eNCA news channel that cries for help and desperate shouts were audible when the fire ignited.

Mgcini Tshwaku, a government official, pointed to initial findings suggesting that the fire might have been started by a candle lit within the building. Tshwaku also noted that the building lacked adequate fire escape routes, as evidenced by occupants being trapped behind locked gates at exit points.

In the aftermath, remnants of the fire were still evident as daylight broke, with makeshift ropes fashioned from sheets and blankets hanging from shattered windows.


Imray contributed to this report from Cape Town, South Africa.


AP Africa News: link

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Johannesburg building fire

What is the main incident reported in the text?

The main incident reported is a devastating fire that broke out in a dilapidated five-story building in Johannesburg, South Africa, resulting in at least 73 fatalities. Many of those affected were homeless individuals.

How many people were affected by the fire?

A minimum of 73 people died in the fire. Another 55 were injured. While exact numbers are not available, it is estimated that up to 200 people might have been living in the building, and 141 families were reportedly affected by the incident.

What were the challenges faced by emergency services?

Emergency services faced difficulties in search and rescue due to the building’s interior conditions. The building was effectively an “informal settlement” with obstructions that hindered rescue efforts and made it challenging for residents to escape.

Were there any children among the victims?

Yes, among the 73 fatalities, seven were children, with the youngest being just one year old.

What is the historical significance of the building?

The building served as South Africa’s “pass” office during the apartheid era and is considered a heritage site. It was reportedly owned by the city of Johannesburg but was not actively regulated by local governance.

What is the ongoing concern for the city authorities?

Lt. Gen. Elias Mawela, Gauteng Province’s police commissioner, indicated that there are approximately 700 similarly abandoned and dilapidated buildings in Johannesburg’s central area, raising concerns about further potential tragedies.

What is the suspected cause of the fire?

Initial findings by local government officials suggest that the fire might have been ignited by a candle used for light and warmth within the building.

What time did the fire break out?

The fire broke out around 1 a.m. in the central business district of Johannesburg.

What comments were made by Johannesburg’s Emergency Services Management?

Robert Mulaudzi, a spokesperson for Johannesburg’s Emergency Services Management, stated that in his over 20 years of service, he had never encountered an incident of this magnitude. He also warned that the death toll is likely to rise.

What are “hijacked buildings”?

In the context of Johannesburg, “hijacked buildings” refer to abandoned and dilapidated structures that are often occupied by individuals desperate for housing. These buildings are not actively regulated by local authorities.

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