DURBAN - RESIDENTS of an informal settlement awoke in the early hours of yesterday morning to find thick clouds of black smoke rising from a massive fire.
The informal settlement residents of Horseshoe Road in Clairwood said they were told to leave their homes and gather at the sports ground for their safety. The fire claimed the lives of three people.
Transnet Pipelines spokesperson Saret Knoetze said: “Transnet Pipelines received notification of a fire at Horseshoe Road which is in close proximity to the fuel pipeline. The Transnet Pipelines National Operations Centre immediately shut down the pipeline and activated the emergency response plan.” Knoetze said that eThekwini Disaster Management, the SAPS, fire department and Spill response, responded to the fire.
“The preliminary assessment indicates a botched fuel theft incident on the pipeline, and investigations are ongoing,” she said.
Knoetze said the current focus was on extinguishing the fire and minimising the impact on the community and environment.
A resident, Nomusa Mdletshe, said she had been afraid that the fire would destroy her home. “I was so terrified when I saw how big the fire was, I thought it was going to escalate and burn down my home. Thank God that the emergency services and police came,” she said. Another resident, Themba Khoza, said the fire had destroyed a tuckshop in the area.
Ward councillor Protox Mngonyama said the residents were told to evacuate from their houses for their own safety.
Desmond D’sa, of the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance, said: “This fire is one of the many that have occurred during Covid-19 which could have a negative impact on people’s lives.”
He said the government should bring medical practitioners to test the residents of the area. “Blood tests and lung tests should be done because this is a recipe for cancer,” he said.
Provincial police spokesperson Colonel Thembeka Mbele confirmed that three people were declared dead on scene. Transnet added that there had been an unprecedented number of fuel thefts on Transnet pipelines in recent years which have resulted in injuries and fatalities.
“Due to the inherent dangers of tampering with high pressure petroleum pipelines, these incidents have resulted in fire and other asset damage, as well as environmental incidents, with high remediation costs. Due to the nature of the petroleum products transported on the pipeline, some activities have resulted in serious injuries and/or fatalities.”
Knoetze said 159 arrests had been made and 254 cases opened. “Transnet has implemented various security measures to address the theft attempts, some of which have yielded positive results.”
She said Transnet Pipelines would continue to work with law enforcement to keep communities and the pipeline safe. Knoetze added that community members should report any suspicious activities, such as bakkies or fuel tankers in the area of the block valve chambers or near pipeline markers etc. The toll free number is 0800 203 843.