Raging fire guts stores at Protea Gardens Mall in Soweto
Police are investigating the cause of a fire which gutted at least three stores at the shopping centre on Wednesday evening. A number of shops had just re-opened their doors while others were on the verge of re-opening following the damage caused during the July Riots last year.
The Johannesburg Emergency Services (JES) department and the police are investigating the origin of a fire which gutted at least three shops at the Protea Gardens Mall in Soweto overnight on Wednesday.
According to the JES, at least two fire engines from the local fire station attended the blaze.
“Indeed, we can confirm that last night around 9pm in the evening we responded to a fire incident at Protea Gardens Mall in Soweto where two stores, including Roots Butchery were affected,” JES spokesperson Robert Mulaudzi said.
“The cause of the fire is not known at this stage and investigations to establish the cause are currently underway,” Mulaudzi said.
“We had about two fire engines which responded to the blaze from the local fire stations within the Soweto service precinct,” said Mulaudzi.
Without pinpointing the cause of the fire, Mulaudzi urged tenants at the mall to ensure that when they knock off, they must switch off all appliances in use during the day.
The latest fire incident came as the Protea Gardens mall was in a recovery process after it was gutted during the July unrest last year. A number of the shops had just re-opened their doors while others were on the verge of re-opening.
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On Thursday morning, when Daily Maverick revisited the scene, the interior of the Roots Butchery was still engulfed in thick pungent smoke which prevented employees from resuming work. Concerned workers from many of the stores huddled in groups wondering what would become of their jobs.
“I could not have made it if I was still inside because the entire place was filled with water. Anyone inside the mall at that point risked electrocution,” an unidentified Roots Butchery employee said.
Other stores opened for the day without any unusual disruptions in the morning.
According to another worker in one of the big stores, the fire started at a grocery store and spread to a nearby pharmacy as well as the butchery.
“Apparently the fire started at Nizams. A nearby pharmacy and Roots Butchery were also burned. I have also just returned from cleaning our store because it was flooded,” the unidentified female worker from one of the stores said.
The South African Police Service (SAPS) would not say if they are investigating the cause of the fire or if they suspected any foul play. Spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Dimakatso Sello referred Daily Maverick to the Johannesburg Metro Police Department (JMPD).
According to the JMPD, their officers received a fire outbreak complaint at the Protea Gardens Mall from their Tactical Command Centre.
“On arrival, the JMPD officers together with SAPS visual found community members attempting to loot the burning shops, but they were dispersed from inside the mall before they could loot,” JMPD spokesperson Xolani Fihla said.
Fihla further disclosed: “The city of Johannesburg EMS was also on the scene, and they extinguished the fire at Nizams shop and the pharmacy.”
According to the JMPD, an inquest docket of arson was opened at the Protea Glen SAPS.
A security guard at the mall claimed foul play was unlikely. The guard said at Nizams, where the fire allegedly started, everything was burned and covered in soot. He said the pharmacy was greatly affected while the damage to Roots Butchery was minimal.
“It’s thought that the fire might have been sparked by electric appliances which were not switched off,” he said. DM