Cooling fan behind fire at Cape Town mortuary, fire services says

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A cooling fan which caught alight has been found to be the cause of a fire at the Salt River Mortuary. (Supplied: Western Cape Government Health Forensic Pathology Services)
A cooling fan which caught alight has been found to be the cause of a fire at the Salt River Mortuary. (Supplied: Western Cape Government Health Forensic Pathology Services)
  • The fire originated in one of the walk-in refrigerators.
  • The fridge in the dissection area was, at the time, full to capacity.
  • A section that was affected by smoke has been closed down due to the damage.

A cooling fan which caught alight has been found to be the cause of a fire at the Salt River Mortuary, City of Cape Town fire services confirmed on Friday.

A provincial health forensic pathology services official came across the fire while doing his afternoon fridge checks and inspections on Wednesday afternoon.

The fire originated in one of the walk-in refrigerators, pathology services spokesperson Deanna Bessick said.

"At the time of the incident, the fridge in the dissection area was full to capacity with bodies on trolleys and a total of 70 bodies in the fridge. Eleven bodies were in close contact with the fire and the body bags were melted.

"The impact of the melted bags will be evaluated by the pathologists tasked with the evaluation. The facility is currently operational, the section that was affected by smoke has been closed down due to the damage incurred."

Bessick said 40 officials were on duty, although not all were working in the dissection area, where the fire broke out.

"Fourteen officials were in the affected area at the time. Fortunately, none of them were physically injured, they were, however, emotionally traumatised. The department will ensure that the affected officials will receive the necessary counselling."

Director of forensic pathology services Vonita Thompson said the damage appeared to be superficial.

"However, we are awaiting an engineering assessment that will reveal the extent of the damage," Thompson said.

"The staff were very proactive in putting out the fire, therefore, preventing further damage to the fridge and the facility."

No evacuation had been necessary, Bessick said.

City of Cape Town fire services spokesperson Jermaine Carelse on Friday said a cooling fan which caught alight was behind the fire.

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