Electrics spark Royal blaze, guests evacuated

2009-06-23 00:00

GUESTS, including British Lions supporters, and staff were evacuated from Durban’s luxurious Royal Hotel after a municipal transformer sparked a blaze in the basement.

Dressed only in their pyjamas, some guests stood on the pavement on Anton Lembede Street (formerly Smith Street) and watched as smoke billowed from the back entrance of the hotel. Staff helped guests evacuate through the emergency exits around the building.

Morning traffic was affected after Metro police closed the road between Aliwal and Gardiner streets to allow emergency vehicles unhindered access to the scene.

Thick, black smoke covered the area around the hotel, which is scheduled to undergo renovations soon.

According to hotel management, the fire broke out when the Ring Main municipal transformer situated in the hotel’s basement under the Ulundi Room blew. It is believed that the transformer supplies electricity to several buildings in the area.

A rugby supporter from Suffolk in England, who did not want to be named, said he had just woken up when he heard an announcement about the fire.

“I grabbed my spectacles and ran out into the corridor. I saw other guests running down the passage to safety. I didn’t even think about my luggage, I just wanted to get to safety,” he said.

He said he was sad that his stay at one of Durban’s “finest hotels” was marred by the fire.

“It’s sad that this has happened, but I’m glad that we are all safe. I will have an amazing story to tell my family back home,” he said.

Eyewitness Sam Mkhize, who was on his way to work, said that staff called out guests’ names from a list to ensure that everyone had been accounted for.

“People were wearing their bathrobes and sleepwear. Many looked shocked while others were just amused. The staff tried their best to keep everyone calm,” he said.

Netcare spokesman Chris Botha said 12 staff members were treated for smoke inhalation at the scene and 11 were sent to St Augustine’s hospital for further treatment.

Managing director of the Royal, Mike Lambert, said: “We are pleased in the way which our management team handled the safety of our guests, staff and the hotel. On behalf of the Royal, we would like to thank the Fire Department, Otis and all other assis­tance that came forth this morning.”

The evacuated guests will stay in other Three Cities Hotels in and around the greater Durban area until the municipality reconnects the electricity supply to the hotel and surrounding buil­dings.

YESTERDAY’S fire was the second to wreak havoc at the Royal Hotel.

On the evening of Tuesday, January 14, this year, a fire ravaged the third floor of the hotel. The fire started in a linen room and quickly spread across the third floor.

About 100 guests and staff members had to be evacuated to an adjacent parking lot. Guests were then relocated to other Three Cities hotels around Durban.

Fire-fighters battled for an hour to extinguish the fire. Forensic experts were called in to investigate.

A man was taken in for questioning but was never charged. — WR.

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