#AlexFire: "There was no space between shacks for fire engines to move"

By BOTHO MOLOSANKWE Time of article published Dec 7, 2018

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Johannesburg - Lack of hydrants, shacks built dangerously close to each other, no water tanks as well as frustrated and verbally abusive residents.

These are the challenges that had to be dealt with when they rushed to Alexandra to battle the raging fire that devastated the community on Thursday afternoon, according to Joburg Emergency Services' Nana Radebe.

An alleged love triangle spat sparked the fire when a man burnt the shack of his love rival. The fire spread quickly and over 500 shacks had been razed to the ground. Hundreds of people were left homeless.

Radebe said the City currently does not have a water tanker as it is still under repairs. When they arrived at the scene, only one hydrant could be found. However, that was being used as a daily tape.

"The water pressure was very low in that hydrant so we could not use it. We had to rely on a hydrant a kilometre away. There used to be factories there so we suspect that there are hydrants in the area but people built shacks on top of them," Radebe said.

She said what also exacerbated the problem was the fact that the shacks were built dangerously closely to each other, something that led to the fire spreading very quickly. 

She said there was no space between the shacks for the fire engines to move around, meaning they had to park very far and fire-fighters had to walk to where the fire was and extinguish the blaze. That, she said slowed the fire-fighting process and led to the fire spreading quickly.

Two women carry a mattress they salvaged after a fire broke out in Alexandra on Thursday, destroying hundreds of shacks. Picture: Nhlanhla Phillips/African News Agency/ANA

"As there were no hydrants nearby, fire-fighters had to keep leaving the scene to go and replenish the tanker and many residents did not understand that. They thought fire-fighters had to be there the whole day so they were very frustrated and were verbally abusive.

"Fortunately, the police were there," she said.

Michael Sun, MMC for Public Safety in the City of Joburg said Disaster Management Unit arrived shortly after the fire broke out to assist. Displaced residents were given temporary emergency shelter at East Bank Hall, he said.

"Organisations like the Gift of the Givers were also available to assist. We thank these organisations, which include the Zaka International Rescue Unit that assisted with efforts to bring down the blaze. Pick 'n Pay Alexandra for the provision of food to those affected, the Al-Imdaad Foundation for their assistance in the provision of rehabilitation resources for fire-fighters and Pace Car Rental for assisting with a truck to move household goods.

"We are truly thankful for these kind efforts, which are deeply needed by the distressed community.

"The City together with its relief partners will continue to provide food, blankets, hygiene packs and other materials in order to assist the victims of this devastating fire," Sun said.

The devastation comes as the South African Weather Services forecast that it will rain in Joburg for the next few days.

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