Arcade tenants devastated

2009-07-31 00:00

THE fire that gutted Harwin’s Arcade on Wednesday night devastated a number of small businesses and police are investigating whether the blaze was caused by arson.

Harwin’s Arcade is the second building of historical importance in the city to be gutted by fire in as many months. On June 12, the Colonial Building nearby was also engulfed in flames.

Senior Superintendent Henry Budhram said police are investigating arson, but would not elaborate as the circumstances are still being investigated.

The owners of the businesses in the arcade said they lost thousands of rands worth of merchandise. Yesterday morning, they counted their losses from afar as the police had cordoned off the area.

Prince Fred, a tenant who runs a shoe shop in the area, estimated that he lost about R200 000 in goods, adding, “So far I have not been able to go in because the police are not letting anyone in.”

He was critical of the way the firefighters had dealt with the blaze, saying: “They have the tools, and they seem not to know how to use them”.

“The fire started on the left side of the building and I thought they would attack it from the right to prevent it from spreading, but they focused on the left side and let it spread to the whole top floor.”

Another tenant, Babes Dada­bhays, felt the municipality had let down the firefighters.

He said: “The firefighters were great. The problem was that there was not enough pressure on the hydrant and that slowed them down, allowing the fire to spread quickly.”

Ros Devereaux of heritage body Amafa said the old Stock Exchange Building neighbouring Harwin’s Arcade also suffered extensive damage. She said she was still baffled how the fire managed to jump from one building to another.

“The building had many flammable things and wooden floors so it burned easily. By 11 this morning, the area was still smouldering and the firefighters had to come back.”

Essack Khan, operations manager of the Fire Department, said that although the pressure in the hydrant was not good, they managed to save part of the building.

He added that the fire load was big. “In that area you find that there are a lot of businesses located in one office, and combined with that it’s an old building with a lot of wood.

“It created a really big fire load.”

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