For more than six hours, a violent fire which has still not been brought under control by the dozens of Cape Town firefighters on the spot, has been raging at the seat of the South African Parliament, Sunday, January 2.
Aerial footage on television shows huge flames rising from the roof. The sprawling Victorian edifice with a brick red and white facade, comprising several buildings, is shrouded in a thick cloud of black smoke. No casualties have been reported so far. The cause of the fire has not yet been determined.
The streets of the upscale neighborhood were quickly cordoned off. The security cordon extends to the flowers still spread on the forecourt of the neighboring Saint-Georges Cathedral, where the funeral of Desmond Tutu, the last hero of the fight against apartheid who died on December 26, took place the day before. That very morning at dawn, his ashes were interred in the church in a private ceremony.
Breaking: A large fire is burning at a Parliament building in Cape Town, South Africa. https://t.co/fhIn7gUWD3
The fire broke out around 5 a.m. (2 hours in Paris), according to the emergency services. A thick column of smoke was visible from several kilometers away, journalists from Agence France-Presse noted. Distraught Captonians waking up quickly shared photos on social networks.
According to the first observations of the firefighters, the fire started from the old building housing the National Assembly before spreading. The roof of the current Assembly has been affected: “The roof has caught fire and the building of the National Assembly is also on fire”, said Jean-Pierre Smith, responsible for the city’s fire and rescue services.
A team of thirty firefighters who arrived first on the scene battled the flames for several hours before having to retreat from the intensity of the fire and call for reinforcements. About 80 firefighters are currently on the ground. Some try, equipped with a water lance from the top of a crane, to calm the fire.
“The fire was contained in the original wing. Firefighters are currently trying to control the fire in the new wing, where the fire has affected the National Assembly ”, Parliament said in a statement.
“The fire is not under control and cracks in the walls of the building have been reported”, warned Mr. Smith. “The fire is currently mounted on the third floor, the first elements indicate that it started in the offices before spreading to the gymnasium”, he continued, admitting to fear “Significant damage”.
The emergency services fear that the fire will spread quickly in these old rooms adorned with rich carpets and curtains. The origin of the fire is not yet known, investigators are on site. It was in Parliament that the last white South African president, who died last month, FW de Klerk, announced in February 1990 the end of the racist apartheid regime.
The city was already the victim of a major fire in April. A fire on Table Mountain overlooking the coastal city had spread and destroyed treasures in the library of the prestigious Cape Town University below. Cape Town is the seat of the Parliament made up of the National Assembly and an Upper House called the National Council of Provinces, while the government is based in Pretoria.
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South Africa: a violent fire devastates the Parliament of Cape Town