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‘I’ve not seen anything like this in my 22 years of service’: Johannesburg CBD fire death toll confirmed at 64

A crowd of emergency personnel

Emergency personnel at the scene where at least 64 people have died in an inferno in the Joburg CBD. File Picture: Timothy Bernard/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Aug 31, 2023


While the death toll from the inferno which gutted a hijacked building in the Joburg CBD on Thursday continues to escalate, City of Johannesburg’s Emergency Management Services (EMS) were faced with the sordid reality of carrying charred bodies out of the building.

“It is a sad day indeed in the City of Johannesburg,” Joburg EMS spokesperson Robert Mulaudzi said speaking to broadcaster Newzroom Afrika at the scene.

“With my 22 years of service in the City of Johannesburg’s fire department, I have never come across something like this. But we have to do what we have to do.”

By 9am on Thursday, the revised death toll showed that at least 64 bodies have been removed from the gutted building. One of the deceased people is a toddler.

Mulaudzi said in his decades of serving in the emergency service, he had not seen such a harrowing scene.

He said the five-storey building was heavily partitioned inside, which might have made an escape difficult for residents fleeing the flames.

Mulaudzi said manoeuvring was also very difficult for EMS officials.

“The building is a hijacked building. It is actually an informal settlement inside a building. So there is a lot of debris which we have to go through to make sure that there is no any other bodies which might still be trapped inside the building,” he said.

More than 60 people died when a fire broke out at a Joburg hijacked building. File Picture: Timothy Bernard / African News Agency (ANA)

Mulaudzi said from outside, the buildings looks formal, but there are countless partitions “like shacks” inside the densely-populated building which was occupied illegally.

“From the first floor to the fifth floor, it is an informal area hence you find the intensity of the fire. There is also the issues of the integrity of the building, it had been abandoned for so long, we have to exercise caution as we do this search and recovery operation.”

Earlier today, IOL reported that the residents of the hijacked building had died in the inferno which engulfed the building, while 43 other residents were taken to different facilities for injuries and smoke inhalation.

“It is a very unfortunate situation which we had to respond to this morning at around 1.30am,” said Mulaudzi.

“We were called to this five-storey building at the corner of Alberts and Delvers Street which is one of those hijacked buildings, abandoned buildings in the inner city.”

Last month, at least one people died in a massive explosion which rocked the Joburg CBD, while 41 other people were injured.