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Building Fire In South Africa Kills 64

Television footage showed fire trucks and ambulances outside the red and white building with burned-out windows, which had been cordoned off by police.

Firefighters extiguish a fire in a building in Johannesburg on August 31, 2023. (Photo by Michele Spatari / AFP)

By Nebianet Usaini

A fire that engulfed a five-storey building killed more than 60 people including children in central Johannesburg on Thursday, the South African city’s emergency services said.

Another 43 were injured, some suffering from smoke inhalation, and were taken for treatment at local hospitals, Emergency Management Services spokesman Robert Mulaudzi said.

“The death toll is at 64…(including) seven children,” Emergency Management Services spokesman Robert Mulaudzi said, with some left burned beyond recognition.

The youngest victim was aged less than two years old, he said.

Firefighters at the scene had put out the flames and search and recovery operations were ongoing.

“We are moving floor by floor conducting these body recoveries,” Mulaudzi told local broadcaster ENCA.

An AFP reporter at the scene said emergency services were continuing to bring charred bodies out of the building, laying them down under blankets and sheets on the street outside.

“It is indeed a sad day for the city of Johannesburg… over 20 years in the service, I’ve never come across something like this,” Mulaudzi said.

It was not immediately clear what caused the blaze, which broke out overnight.

Mgcini Tshwaku, a member of the city’s mayoral committee in charge of public safety, said candles used for lighting inside the structure were a likely cause.

– Security gate closed –
The building, which has been evacuated, is located in a deprived area of what used to be the business district of South Africa’s economic hub, and was used as an informal settlement, Mulaudzi said.

“A lot of people” might have been trapped inside when the fire started, he added, suggesting many in the building may have been squatting illegally.

“Inside the building itself there was a (security) gate which was closed so people couldn’t get out,” said Tshwaku.

“Many burned bodies were found stashed at that gate”.

Fire trucks and ambulances were parked outside the red and white building with burned-out windows, which has been cordoned off by police, as a small crowd of onlookers gathered in the area.

Illegal occupation of disused buildings in the city centre is widespread, with many said to be under the control of criminal syndicates who collect rent from occupants.

In June a blaze ripped through a dilapidated building in Johannesburg and killed two children under ten who were locked in an apartment.

EDITORS NOTE: Graphic content / Bodies covered in blankets and sheets are seen at the scene of a fire in Johannesburg on August 31, 2023. – At least 20 people have died and more than 40 were injured in a fire that engulfed a five-storey building in central Johannesburg on August 31, 2023, the South African city’s emergency services said. (Photo by Michele Spatari / AFP)
A man covered in a blanket sits at the sceen of a fire in Johannesburg on August 31, 2023. – At least 20 people have died and more than 40 were injured in a fire that engulfed a five-storey building in central Johannesburg on Thursday, the South African city’s emergency services said. (Photo by Michele Spatari / AFP)
South African firefighters and South African Police Service officers work at the sceen of a fire in Johannesburg on August 31, 2023. – At least 20 people have died and more than 40 were injured in a fire that engulfed a five-storey building in central Johannesburg on August 31, 2023, the South African city’s emergency services said. (Photo by Michele Spatari / AFP)
South African firefighters and South African Police Service officers work at the sceen of a fire in Johannesburg on August 31, 2023. – At least 20 people have died and more than 40 were injured in a fire that engulfed a five-storey building in central Johannesburg on Thursday, the South African city’s emergency services said. (Photo by Michele Spatari / AFP)
EDITORS NOTE: Graphic content / A member of the emergency services stands next to belongings of people evacuated out of a building at the scene of a fire in Johannesburg on August 31, 2023. – At least 20 people have died and more than 40 were injured in a fire that engulfed a five-storey building in central Johannesburg on August 31, 2023, the South African city’s emergency services said. (Photo by Michele Spatari / AFP)
Firefighters work at the scene of a fire in Johannesburg on August 31, 2023. – At least 20 people have died and more than 40 were injured in a fire that engulfed a five-storey building in central Johannesburg on August 31, 2023, the South African city’s emergency services said. (Photo by Michele Spatari / AFP)

Television footage showed fire trucks and ambulances outside the red and white building with burned-out windows, which had been cordoned off by police.

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