Workers trapped in bakery blaze

2008-11-02 00:00

An inquiry has been launched into the circumstances surrounding a fire at a local bakery in which seven employees suffered smoke inhalation, allegedly as a result of having been locked into the premises on Saturday night.

The fire is believed to have broken out at Kajal’s Bakery at about 11.30 pm.

When The Witness arrived at the scene shortly after midnight, it was told that 16 men had been trapped in the building during the fire at the bakery in Birmingham Road in Eastwood.

The victims are alleged to be Malawian nationals who were locked into the bakery and could not get out when the fire started.

Patrons at a nearby tavern who were partying until late on Saturday night alerted the Pietermaritzburg fire brigade which forced open the doors and extinguished the blaze.

The bakery was extensively damaged.

A spokesman for the fire department said yesterday that the cause of the fire is still being investigated.

Fire investigator Richard Dlamini said he had not had an opportunity to interview the owner or the victims and said the source of the fire had also not been determined yesterday.

He said the bakery was small and there was damage throughout, caused mainly by heat and smoke, as well as water.

Some tavern patrons told The Witness that they heard screams coming from the bakery and saw smoke billowing from it.

They tried desperately, but in vain, to break down the strong doors until the firemen arrived and broke open the doors to let out the trapped men.

No serious injuries were reported, but most of the men appeared to be suffering from breathing problems and others sustained minor injuries in their desperate efforts to get out the burning building.

Police spokesman Senior Superintendent Henry Budhram confirmed the incident and said the police and Labour Department will conduct a joint inquiry into the matter.

It is illegal (in terms of the Occupational Health and Safety Act) for employees of any business to be locked inside for any reason without access to an emergency exit.

Budhram said the police had been told by the owner that everything was in order when he visited the bakery at about 10 pm.

Some time thereafter a fire broke out and the fire department and police were called.

Budhram confirmed that the doors were forced open and said seven people were taken to hospital suffering from the effects of smoke inhalation.

“Six of them were discharged today [Sunday] and one man was transferred to Edendale Hospital,” he said.

Budhram could not confirm where the employees were from, but said it was possible they could be from Malawi.

“At this stage an investigation is under way to determine all the facts,” he said.

ingrido@witness.co.za

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