Landmark hotel burns to ground
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By Jeff Wicks
One of KwaZulu-Natal's oldest lodges, the Off Saddle Hotel in Ixopo, burnt down on Thursday afternoon.
The hotel, which was built in 1878, was a landmark on the tourism trail and still bore its original name.
Police Captain Vincent Pandarum said the fire was thought to have started in the hotel's kitchen soon after 1pm.
The owner and his wife noticed smoke billowing from the kitchen.
They desperately tried to extinguish the flames themselves then contacted the Ixopo fire brigade.
Pandarum said all of the guests were evacuated and no injuries were reported.
"All the people staying in the hotel managed to rush from their rooms and got out unscathed. When the firefighters finally put out the fire, 90 percent of the hotel was destroyed," he said.
Pandarum said that no police docket had been opened on Thursday.
"At this stage we are still trying to establish exactly what happened. If necessary, a docket of arson will be opened, otherwise it will remain an inquiry."
An Ixopo resident said she had seen smoke while shopping at the other end of town.
"We had been at the hardware shop when we noticed the smoke. We quickly drove to the hotel and found it on fire."
"There is a bottle store attached to the hotel building and people were rushing in and out trying to save bottles of liquor.
"The owners of the hotel and staff had removed furniture from the burning building and placed it in the street. We watched as a woman ran up and stole a TV, running away with it down the street."
She said it took firefighters nearly four hours to put out the blaze.
"All that is left of the hotel is a burnt-out shell. There is no roof left and it's basically just rubble.
"This is the third time in recent years that the hotel has caught fire."