Man dies in fuel station explosion
Maryke Swart, Volksblad
Bloemfontein - The owner of a fuel station in Vrede was killed and two of his employees were seriously injured on Tuesday in a huge explosion and fire that gutted the fuel station and next-door tyre company.
A gas bottle was believed to have exploded in the shop of the Mahem garage in Church Street, leading to the death of Nico Kotze, 48.
Free State police spokesperson Captain Harry Nagel said Kotze and two employees, Bongani Ndlebe, 26, and Stoffel Maduna, 27, were in the building at about 11:00 on Tuesday when the gas bottle presumably exploded.
A fire then started. Kotze apparently fell down as they were rushing out of the burning building.
The garage and adjacent company, Speedy Tyres, were gutted by the fire.
Kotze’s body was found after the flames were put out.
Ndlebe and Maduna were rushed to the Manapo Hospital in Qwaqwa.
They were in a stable condition in hospital later on Tuesday. Ndlebe had 35% burn wounds to his face, arms and chest, and Maduna had 20% burn wounds to his face and arms, as well as burns to his legs.
Several businesses in Vrede were temporarily shut and evacuated after the explosion. The area was closed off for safety reasons.
A resident said by late on Tuesday people were still not permitted to go near the buildings out of fear that the underground fuel tanks could explode.
Johan du Toit, owner of the gutted tyre company, said he was working in the office when he heard a huge bang.
At first he thought one of his workers had perhaps pumped up a tyre too much and it had burst. When he went outside, a cloud of smoke hung over the fuel station.
He then realised something had exploded.
He and his staff evacuated the premises and safely removed the vehicles.
Five minutes later the windows of his business were shattered and the building started burning.
He said the fuel station and his building would have to be demolished.
“I will probably only be able to do business again in six months’ time. All the stock burnt down and we will have to rebuild the building.”
Nagel said an inquest would be held into Kotze’s death.
A forensic team from Pretoria would investigate the cause of the explosion.
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