Mourners abandon service as crematorium catches fire

The fire reached the roof because of the soot built around the chimney up in the furnace. Picture: Pixabay

The fire reached the roof because of the soot built around the chimney up in the furnace. Picture: Pixabay

Published Jun 30, 2024


Durban — Cedar Ridge Crematorium in Cato Ridge caught fire on Saturday afternoon after soot build-up caused the ceiling to catch fire in the furnace room.

A family, who were to have cremated a loved one when the fire started, were forced to go home with the body, not knowing when another cremation would take place.

Michael Wilman, a partner at the crematorium, said his father opened the crematorium seven years ago.

“The fire reached the roof because of the soot built around the chimney up in the furnace. The heat from the chimney caused a spark which set the soot on fire, causing the ceiling below to also catch alight,” said Wilman.

“Luckily, the oven was already switched off because we had just finished a cremation. However, the workers saw smoke and when they investigated they saw the fire. The fire department was called and the fire was extinguished quickly.”

Wilman said when they repaired the damage, they would opt to remove the ceiling.

By having it visible, they would be able to prevent further problems.

“We didn’t know how the crematorium was built, so we could not take precautions. In this instance, the soot build-up and eventual heat from the chimney and steel roof set the soot alight and the roof gave in. The soot build-up happens over time and is common in crematoriums,” he said.

He was leaving the farmers’ market when he got the call, but by the time he reached the crematorium the fire had already been extinguished.

Wilman said no one was hurt but he was in shock and stressed about how to move forward.

He said the insulation around the chimney had been destroyed and, in order to be up and running again, they would have to do repairs by removing the ceiling and insulating again.

“The fire department had to enter through the roof to put the fire out. They noticed some damage to the roof trusses as well.

“But with everything, we will be cremating again soon. The company we are partnered with is a construction company. So we will be closed for now but we will be open soon because we think of our customers first. We need to help them.”

Alternative crematoriums will have to be used for now, and that is the case for one family who was scheduled to cremate a loved one just before the fire happened.

Pastor Quinton Aiyer from Greater Times International had just arrived at the crematorium to perform the last rites when he saw the fire.

“The place was on fire. The furnace room was unusable, which left the family traumatised because they had to send their loved one back to the funeral parlour, and will most likely only perform the cremation next Tuesday.

“We quickly left as we didn’t know how much worse it would get. This is something a grieving family shouldn’t be exposed to, especially on the day they have to say goodbye,” said Aiyer.

Owing to the Cedar Ridge Crematorium’s closure, there will only be one crematorium left to use in the Pietermaritzburg area.

Sunday Tribune