Still no clarity on how Glencoe prison fire started

2015-05-25 17:19
Flames rise from a section of Glencoe Prison in northern KZN. (Jeff Wicks, News24)

Flames rise from a section of Glencoe Prison in northern KZN. (Jeff Wicks, News24)

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Durban - Inmates at the Glencoe Correctional Centre were not under supervision when a fire broke out in the gym on May 11, Deputy Minister of Correctional Services Thabang Makwetla revealed on Monday.

Makwetla said an investigation into what caused the fire that destroyed 70% of the correctional centre had, however, failed to reveal how the fire started.

Speaking shortly after a site visit at the centre in northern KwaZulu-Natal, Makwetla said: “From what we have gathered here today, the fire started in a section that was used by inmates as a gym and when the fire started, the inmates were by themselves.

“This is the reason why the officials are not able to say how the fire started. When they responded that section was already covered in smoke and they could not access the place,” said Makwetla.

On May 11, a total of 1022 inmates, excluding two who were in court, were evacuated from the Glencoe Correctional Centre.

Of the 179 warders employed at the centre, a total of 124 warders have been moved to centres around the province to where inmates have been transferred.

'Huge setback for us'

It was earlier reported that the fire began in the prison’s dining hall and that the blaze quickly spread to other sections of the prison.

“This is a very huge setback for us as a department because this centre accommodates over 1 000 inmates. It is also the head management area, there are several other satellite correctional centres under this one.

“I wanted to come and see for myself the extent of the damage we incurred as a result of the fire, but also to just see what could be salvaged,” he said.

Makwetla commended the intervention by officials and officers on that day.

They were able to execute a miraculous operation to safely evacuate the inmates and move them to several correctional centres around the area, said Makwetla.  

He revealed that a lot of goods, records, inmate clothing and money in the affected section could be salvaged.

During the site visit, News24 found that the entire roof of the dining hall had collapsed, while the administration building and 44 single cells were damaged during the blaze.

Another nine communal cells were also burnt, while pieces of corrugated iron, melted hose pipes, burnt vegetables and pots lay scattered in the kitchen.

'Urgent project'

In one of the cells, a large pile of inmates’ clothes were stacked in one corner. The inmates' belongings were stashed in black plastic bags.

“We are looking at how quick and how fast we can have work to get the correctional centre reconstructed and back in operation. We are in talks with the Department of Public Works about the costs of rebuilding the centre,” Makwetla said.

“The design of the structure was adequate for the purpose. There may be a need to consider adding other sections to the ones we have here because it is an overcrowded centre.

He said transferring all the prisoners to other centres exacerbated the overcrowding issue in the province.

“This is why we are appealing to our colleagues at Public Works in the region to register this project as an urgent project,” said Makwetla.

Read more on:    correctional services  |  thabang makwetla  |  durban  |  fire  |  prisons

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