Date: 13 June 2014 By: Andries van Zyl & Isabel Venter
An hour was all it took for a blazing hot fire to reduce a wholesale business to rubble.
The raging fire that destroyed the CheckOut store in Makhado (Louis Trichardt) on Sunday, broke out at around 12:00, causing mayhem not only for local firefighters, but also for business owners. By the time the firefighters arrived on the scene, masses of dark smoke could be seen churning from beneath the roof of the building, located in Kruger Street.
The fire seemingly spread from the back to the front of the building. At the time of going to press, the cause of the fire was still being investigated by both the police and at least two other private fire-investigation companies.
At 12:37, the smoke cloud could be seen as far as Mountain Inn on the N1 north as it steadily spread over town. (See pictures). At the store, firefighters battled alongside the local police and members of the Soutpansberg Town Watch to contain not only the rampant fire, but also the growing crowd of spectators who gathered right in front of the burning building.
At that stage, the curious crowd were taking cellphone pictures of the building, which sounded like a war was in progress on the inside as merchandise caught fire and exploded.
The fire suddenly took a turn for the worse at around 12:45 when the roof of the building exploded, sending burning pieces of flaming corrugated iron tumbling to the ground. The firefighters had to remove their firetruck quickly to avoid getting crushed by the burning rubble.
During this time, a struggle was going on to open a petrol container to ensure that it did not catch fire. Fortunately, this tank was empty and did not pose any further risk.
The crowd, however, made it difficult for rescue personnel to manoeuver on the scene. At one stage, shortly after the first surge by the fire, the police had to drive back the crowd, who tried to plunder open businesses bordering the burning CheckOut. Business owners had opened their shops at around 12:45 to salvage their stock, loading whatever they could on anything that had space and wheels. The prospective looters were, however, quickly driven back by the local police.
At 12:50, a second explosion from the burning building ensured that all looting was reserved for later.
It took a huge effort from the Makhado Fire Station, the Phoenix Flying Squad and the Makhado Air Force Base’s fire brigade to bring the fire under control eventually. Their efforts were hampered by low water pressure in the municipal fire hydrants. Fire trucks had to suffice and had to keep replenishing their water supply to subdue the fire.
Building owner Mr Satar Aboo said on Monday that it was difficult to determine the exact value of the damage caused by the fire. “We will have to wait for the investigation to be completed, and only then will a strategy be determined for a way forward,” he said.
In the meantime, CheckOut, which has been the tenant of the building for almost 12 years, is currently underway with arrangements to ensure that its 50 odd employees will have a livelihood after the fire.
In addition, Sunday’s low water pressure at CheckOut will not be subjected to an investigation. The spokesperson for the Vhembe District Municipality, Mr Ralushai Matodzi, confirmed on Wednesday that the water supply to Makhado (Louis Trichardt) had been functioning on Sunday. He was unwilling to comment on the apparent low pressure of the water supply. “The Makhado Fire Brigade, when they realized that the pressure was low, called for back-up; this is in line with the training that they received,” said Matodzi on Wednesday.
“Everybody knows the water issue in town [Makhado/Louis Trichardt] is improving by the day,” he added.