13 injured, 2 critical in latest Durban factory fire
Durban - A team of firefighters battled for hours to extinguish the blaze that gutted a chemical factory following a massive explosion that left 13 people seriously injured in New Germany, outside Pinetown.
The incident is the second fire at a Durban factory in less than a week after a similar explosion at Engen Oil Refinery on the Bluff at the weekend.
Over 100 workers had to be evacuated from the burning factory as the fire was spreading rapidly throughout the building. Paramedics responded to the fire at 11am after receiving reports about several explosions.
Paramedic Gareth Jamieson said that on arrival, they found the factory, Zeta Laboratory, well alight.
“Thirteen people were injured and were taken to hospitals for further care. Six of those were treated with moderate injuries while two were treated with life-threatening injuries before being taken to hospital,” he said. Jamieson added the other five people suffered from smoke inhalation.
Four vehicles that were parked next to the premises, an Audi A1, a bakkie, forklift and a horse and trailer truck, also caught fire and burnt to the ground. A truck and a forklift were both packed inside the factory’s premises, while the other two, were packed in front of the building.
eThekwini Fire Divisional Commander for Pinetown fire station, Dennis Govender, said they spent hours battling the blaze.
According to Govender, the first team to arrive at the scene tried to extinguish the fire, but the absence of hydrants around the area made things extremely difficult. He said after the arrival of a number of their trucks, the situation improved and they used foam and water.
“We believed and we were also informed that the fire started in the processing area and spread quickly through propane gases 9kg cylinders. There were 20 of those and they all exploded after they caught fire,” he said.
He said there was 10 tons of sanitisers which contained 70% of alcohol on the premises. Govender said other chemicals that were on site include acetone, hydrogen peroxide, caustic soda and petroleum jelly tanks.
“These are all flammable liquid substances that made it difficult for us to extinguish the fire. What also contributed to the fire spreading rapidly was that the wind was strong. Not having water around made it difficult as we had to do a foam line using water,” explained Govender.
He said they were able to evacuate everyone to safety and managed to account for every single person who was in the building.
“We also faced an obstacle as there was a 20-ton petroleum jelly tanker which we battled for hours to extinguish,” he said.
An eyewitness, who was at the service station opposite the factory, said they heard big explosions, and when they looked outside, everyone was running away. He said people were screaming and vehicles driving away at high speed from the area as flames and metal objects were flying out of the factory.
“Some metal objects coming from the factory landed on the roof of the garage. We were so shocked and the explosions went on for several minutes. Every time there was an explosion, more flames would come out,” said the witness.
A worker, who asked not to be named, said they were shocked by the incident, adding that they now face an uncertain future.
“I’m still shaking even now and everything happened so fast. Some of us left everything inside the factory as we had to run for our lives.
“I’m worried about our jobs. Its December now and everyone needs money, worse, we are going to the reopening of schools next month,” said a worker, adding that they were hopeful that there was no extensive damage done.
Factory manager Nikesh Singh said the injured workers were stable in hospital after experiencing third-degree burns. He said they were yet to investigate the cause of the fire and evaluate the total costs lost.
“There was a big loss in our raw material which all got burnt, resulting in huge loses to the company. My vehicle also got burnt, which was an Audi A1. The damage is too much, but we will evaluate everything during the week,” said Singh.
Singh said after having a meeting with the workers, they were all shocked and worried about their jobs. “I have assured them that everyone’s job is guaranteed, and they will be taken care of,” he added.
eThekwini municipality spokesperson Msawakhe Mayisela said the cause of the fire was still unknown, adding that the Fire Safety division was closely monitoring all other similar factories.
Democratic Alliance ward councillor, Melanie Brauteseth, said they were saddened by the deadly explosion.
Brauteseth said they met with the owners of the company and would continue to engage with them and the municipality to establish the cause of the explosion.
“We are gravely concerned about the seemingly increasing incidents of this nature. The DA advocates for safe workspaces and will be working closely with the company and the relevant authorities to find ways to avoid such accidents in the future,” said Brauteseth.