Chip fryer caused Paarl Print fire

2009-10-21 12:01

AN investigation into the horrific fire at the Paarl Print

facility, which killed 13 employees on April 17, point to the heat from cooking

oil in a chip fryer as the cause.

According to a statement released by the Paarl Media Group on

Monday, “The oil in the fryer appears to have self-ignited within half an hour

of being switched on that morning by a contractor in the canteen.

“The flames spread rapidly to the expanded polystyrene thermal

sheets which lined the roof throughout the plant.”

Paarl Media chief executive Stephen van der Walt stated that the

ignition of the insulation clearly caused the fire and smoke to spread rapidly

through the plant, overcoming many of the Paarl Print employees.

It was previously thought that high quantities of paper dust had

caused the rapid spread of the fire, and allegations of non-compliance to safety

procedures had contributed to the fatal blaze which engulfed much of the

facility within 30 minutes.

Van der Walt said these allegations could now be discounted. “It

has also been confirmed that the rapid fire spread was unrelated to materials

used by Paarl Print and the printing industry generally.”

He said video footage showed the morning began in a “typical

fashion”, with employees handing over from the night to day-shift just before


“Tragically, in the next 30 minutes a large percentage of the

facility was engulfed in smoke and destroyed by fire which resulted in several

members of the Paarl Print family losing their lives, leaving many others


“The question on everybody’s mind was how it was possible for this

to have happened in an area of the facility which was mainly constructed from

steel and brick away from flammable substances.”

Van der Walt added that detailed simulations were conducted by

forensic fire experts and the fire was “most probably” caused by the rising heat

from the burning cooking oil igniting the thermal roof insulation.

This produced “vast quantities of smoke” which rapidly filled the

building and caused “extremely poor visibility”.

The media group has had the thermal roof insulation material in all

its 11 factories tested and replaced with insulation material which has better

fire retardation properties.

Dennis George, general secretary of the Federation of Unions of

South Africa (Fedusa), said his union would be taking legal advice on the


George said if it was discovered that the fire could have been

prevented by the sub-contractor running the canteen, then the company and the

sub-contractor would be found liable and responsible for the fire.

If this was the case, Fedusa would seek authority to prosecute both

the contractor and Paarl Media. – West Cape News

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