Another historic building burns

2009-07-30 00:00

ANOTHER historic Pietermaritzburg landmark went up in flames last night. Emotional tenants of the Harwin’s Arcade building watched in horror as their offices and shops burned furiously, many bemoaning the action, or inaction, of the Msunduzi Fire Department.

Speculation at the scene was that a heater may have caused the blaze, which some said started in the vicinity of a photo shop there.

Skhumbuzo Magutshwa of Marshall and Associates, a loans business, said he was working in his office last night when he heard glass breaking.

“I thought someone was breaking in and got up to investigate. I just saw flames.” He ran outside and alerted a municipal patrol outside.

A woman said she alerted the fire brigade at 9.30 pm and they arrived on the scene within minutes.

While many people at the scene were critical of the fire department’s performance, someone on scene was perhaps more qualified to make an assessment.

Tony Lightbody, previous fire chief for the city, watched as his wife’s shop went up in flames.

“Another shocking display by the local fire brigade,” Lightbody said to The Witness.

“They are all standing outside. No one is going in to fight the fire. You’ve got to go in and get it,” said Lightbody.

Lightbody’s wife, Una, has a cash loan business in Harwin’s Arcade. “That’s my office burning,” she said pointing to a massive plume of flames coming from the roof.

Ar Jooma, who runs World Worth Linen with his cousin, told The Witness that he asked firemen if he could go into his shop and save his money and valuables as the top floor of the building was alight.

He said they refused to allow him to go, or to go for him.

“That was an hour-and-a-half ago. They told me the fire was contained. But the back wall collapsed and now my shop is in flames. I have lost about R20 000 cash.”

Police cordoned the area off and pushed angry tenants away from the building.

One policeman threatened to arrest those who didn’t move.

It is believed that the entire top floor of the building was destroyed.

Crowds watching the building burn gasped in unison as the flames flared between bouts of being sprayedby the fire department.

Some stood in their pajamas and slippers, dodging rivulets of sooty water flowing towards the drains.

Fears that three people were upstairs were allayed after it was confirmed that they had left the building via the back stairs.

The only injury, according to ER24 paramedics on scene, was a fireman who slipped and fell into a drain, hurting his leg.

The fire department sent seven fire-fighting vehicles to the scene.

They received the call at 9.30 pm and were there by 9.34 pm, they said. Attempts to get further comment was unsuccessful.

Harwin’s Arcade was built in 1902 and was designed by Reginald Kirkby.





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