Joburg mayor Herman Mashaba and Gauteng premier David Makhura addressing the media on the Joburg CBD building that went up in flames and left three firefighters dead.
The blocking of emergency fire ducts with discarded paper is one of the main causes why the fire at the Bank of Lisbon building took  so long to extinguish.

So said the acting chief of Joburg Emergency Management Services (EMS), Arthur Mqwa.

He, together with city mayor Herman Mashaba, were visiting the fire victims at Milpark Hospital in Joburg on Thursday.

Mqwa said the reason for the fire taking so long to die out was due to the building failing to comply with the EMS by-laws.

He pointed out: “The building has two emergency routes which were supposed to be used by firefighters and for people to get to fire hydrants, but when we arrived there, those fire doors had been opened. It was difficult for the firefighters to extinguish the fire because of the papers dumped there.

“Basic emergency safety measures were not in place.”

The mayor said he was left in shock trying to understand how a government building had caught fire. He admitted that he was aware that most buildings in the inner city were not compliant and that this fire had been an accident waiting to happen.

Mashaba, who was on his way to Bloemfontein for a meeting, said he had done a U-turn to get back to the city after hearing about the fire.

Although fires were common around the world, Mashaba said that usually fires were not the result of recklessness, as alleged in this case.

He made an undertaking to ensure that buildings are safety compliant in future.

“We’re sitting with major risks in the city. These unfortunate developments could’ve been avoided. Compliance and safety need to be prioritised,” said Mashaba.

Fallen heroes: Simphiwe Moropane, 28, Mduduzi Ndlovu, 40, and Khathutshelo Muedi, 37 lost their lives while battling the blaze in the Joburg CBD.

Gauteng Premier David Makhura also visited the scene of the fire, and described it as a disaster.

He briefed the media after inspecting the building, which was still engulfed in flames.

“I am more than ashamed that lives have been lost. I have asked all Gauteng mayors in the metros to come assist,” he said.

Firefighters from Ekurhuleni, OR Tambo International Airport and Tshwane were called in to assist in extinguishing the blaze.

Makhura said they had decided to release the names of the firefighters who died on Wednesday.