Picture: Zintle Mahlati/IOL

Johannesburg - The Democratic Alliance (DA) in Gauteng on Wednesday called for a full investigation into the events that led to the fire in the 23-storey building that houses the provincial Department of Health.

Shocked onlookers watched in horror when a firefighter fell from one of the top floors of a burning government building to his death. Hundreds of people had gathered across the road next to the African National Congress headquarters, Luthuli House.

Witnesses said the fire broke out on the top floor at around 10h30. The building also houses the Department of Human Settlements as well as the Bank of Lisbon.

Commenting on the tragedy, Jack Bloom, the DA spokesperson on health in Gauteng, said he had been asking the provincial government about the safety of the workers in the building. However, he said his pleas had fallen on deaf ears.

"It is very distressing that something like this is happening. One of the things that workers have been complaining about for a long time is that they are unsafe. There are allegations that the building is condemned and that it contravenes health and safety regulations," Bloom said over the phone.

"I have put out questions to the Department of Infrastructure Development because it owns the building, but I am yet to receive a response, their answer is overdue by a month now. There needs to be a full investigation into the cause of the fire and why employees have been complaining. The department should have responded earlier."

Dr Sipho Sinabe, acting deputy director-general for HR at Gauteng Health, said the building had been evacuated.

"We had an outbreak on the 23rd floor of the building and as soon as we became aware of it we evacuated the staff in that office and the entire floor, as well as the rest of the floors below. The emergency medical services and the fire department were called and they are now extinguishing the fire.

"We don't know what was the cause of the fire. A few of our staff had smoke inhalation and have been sent to a hospital. As far as we know there are three at the moment."

Firefighters, police, and paramedics were on the scene.

A police helicopter hovered above the burning building. There was a collective sigh of relief from onlookers when the helicopter began moving away with a person hanging onto a rope. 

The fire appears to have been contained.

African News Agency/ANA