Mission auditorium razed

2008-06-15 00:00

The massive auditorium at Kwasizabantu Mission near Kranskop, which could seat 10 000 people, was destroyed in a blaze suspected to have been started by an electrical fault on Saturday morning.

The structure was some 18 metres high and “bigger than a football field”.

The Reverend Kjell Olsen of Kwasizabantu said yesterday they are extremely grateful that no one was injured in the blaze.

“The fire broke out at about 9 am and we don’t really know what happened. Most of it is completely burnt. Fortunately it did not happen while a service was taking place.”

He said when the initial investigation is over, an assessment will be done to see how the auditorium can be reconstructed.

“We will take it a step at a time. A lot of hard work went into the construction, all of it by volunteers, which is why we don’t even know the value of it,” he said.

“I think only the windows and doors were bought, the rest was made by us.”

Olsen said the auditorium has been in use for 18 years, having been opened in 1990.

“It was very well constructed. It took us 10 years to build,” he added.

The auditorium was designed by Philip Stott, a structural engineer, a friend of the mission who had lectured extensively in engineering at various universities, he said.

Olsen said the 32 main steel girders are still in the foundations. “They are set about three metres deep, with about 100 tons of concrete in each foundation.”

He said three small double-storey apartments attached to the auditorium, where people were living, were also destroyed by the flames, but fortunately the occupants were able to get out without being injured.

Station Commissioner at Kranskop, Superintendent Chonco, told The Witness that a forensics team is conducting tests to establish the cause of the fire but preliminary indications are that the blaze was the result of an electrical problem. He said fire tenders were unable to reach the blaze before the whole building was destroyed in a matter of 20 minutes.

Olsen said the Kwasizabantu community were taken by surprise at the speed with which the fire raged through the roof structures of the auditorium, which he described as a “skeleton of steel”, with a corrugated iron roof, the ceiling of which was lined with “wooden squares” designed to minimise echoing.

“The middle melted and fell in and nearly all the benches [also made by volunteers] were destroyed.”

He said that fortunately the mission has two other halls and a tent available, and in spite of the disaster, had been able to host a church service yesterday attended by about 2 000 people.

Of some concern was the fact that the mission was due to host a youth conference of 5 000 young people between June 30 to July 7.

“We will have to spread them out and possibly address them in different groups. We have sufficient accommodation. The only problem now is the meeting place.”

Olsen told The Witness the mission had been inundated with offers of assistance and support from various other churches and organisations who have indicated their willingness to help with efforts to reconstruct the auditorium.

“We are very grateful,” he said.

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