File image: City of Cape Town
Cape Town - Gugulethu residents are concerned at the slow response time of fire and rescue services after eight people lost their homes while allegedly waiting two hours for firefighters.

Zolile Zuba said the community rallied to contain the blaze that destroyed three shacks three weeks ago. 

“The fire department only arrived once the fire had sort of been contained,” Zuba said.

“We are not sure about what the reason was or which station they were dispatched from because the fire station was burnt during the protest action, or whether it is because it was a township and it is sometimes dangerous to enter.”

The city’s fire department has denied responding two hours later. 

“Control Centre received the call at 9.29am of informal structures alight. The fire engine responded at 9.33am and arrived on scene at 9.49am. The fire was extinguished at 10.13am,” said Jermaine Carelse, spokesperson for the fire department.

“As can be seen by the time line, it is patently untrue that the fire service was late in arriving.”

Several attacks on the Gugulethu fire station have cost the city council more than R500 000 since July last year, and damage last month caused the indefinite closure of the facility.

The cost excludes the amount needed to repair the station’s bay doors, damaged in the most recent attack on June 14. The fire station was closed for about six months for repairs last year.

“Gugulethu fire station was closed while repairs were undertaken after damage was caused during protest action, so the crew were housed at Mitchells Plain fire station and responded from there,” said Carelse.

Ward 40 councillor Bongani Ngcombolo said it was vital that the station be fully operational in view of the high risk of fires among a large number of informal structures in the suburb.

Carelse said the causes of fires varied, from smoking, to leaving open flames or heating devices unattended, to electrical faults.

In 2016, 133 people died in fires around the city. In 2017, 169 lost their lives due to fires, while last year, 137 died. This year, there have been 41 deaths to date. Of those 41, 23 were men, while nine were women.

Six boys and three girls also died in fires this year.

Vusumuzi Majobela, whose house burnt down along with five others last month, said the response time should have been quicker because the Gugulethu fire station is nearby.

“I was at work when the fire started. I was called to come and then I went. The fire engines were already there containing the fire,” said Majobela.

However, this was on June 11, before the fire station was vandalised.

Weekend Argus