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Joburg residents still without power while teams assess city underbelly after tunnel fire

Joburg residents still without power while teams assess city underbelly after tunnel fire
City of Johannesburg firefighters work to extinguish a blaze in a tunnel under the M1 freeway on 1 May 2024. (Photo: Wikus de Wet / AFP)

Following Tuesday night’s fire that gutted hundreds of metres of the underground cable network in Braamfontein, Johannesburg, authorities will test the gas levels and structural integrity of the tunnels before assessing the damage.

Having gone without power for two days, it’s unclear when electricity will be restored to businesses and homes affected by the tunnel fire that broke out beneath the double-decker section of the M1 highway in Braamfontein on Tuesday, 30 April.

In a statement on Thursday afternoon, City Power said emergency services had finished inspecting the site but that the power utility still had to measure gas levels in the tunnels before teams could start working on restoring power.

The Johannesburg Roads Agency must also assess the tunnels’ structural integrity before workers can enter.

“As soon as those two safety aspects have been addressed, City Power will start clearing the rubble and assessing the extent of the damage caused by the fire on the electricity infrastructure. The outcome will determine the scope of work and the estimated time of completion of repairs,” said City Power spokesperson Isaac Mangena.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Parts of Johannesburg CBD in the dark after fire in inner-city tunnels

City Power said it was looking at alternative options to restore power by “back-feeding” through the Fort and Bree substations. Power had been restored to the City of Johannesburg’s Metro Centre, Liberty Life’s offices, Braampark and other office buildings.

Other parts of the CBD, Braamfontein, Parktown and Newtown have had no power since the blaze.

“Unfortunately, City Power will only be in a position to provide the affected residents with an estimated time of restoration after an assessment has been made of the fire damage and this will be done on Friday. We apologise for the inconvenience caused to the affected residents,” said Mangena.

Cable theft

Speaking from the scene of the fire on Thursday, City Power officials said the blaze had ripped through hundreds of metres of the tunnel network. They said attempted cable theft had caused the fire.

City Power said it had not heard anything from law enforcement about who was responsible for the fire.

“Nothing yet. We will communicate should there be developments on this,” said City Power’s Tumi Mashishi. 

“We can confirm from preliminary investigations that the fire occurred due to acts of theft and vandalism of the electricity equipment on Tuesday night. A hacksaw, screwdriver and other tools, alongside a cellphone, were recovered on the scene on Wednesday,” said Mangena.

“Last night, City Power’s security team had to exchange fire with criminals living in [a] makeshift squatter camp under the M1 along Carr Street, after they were found busy attempting to steal the cable that got burnt during the fire.

“A substantial amount of cable had already been cut and put in recycling bags, but the security personnel managed to recover all of it. Fortunately, no one was injured and a criminal complaint has been lodged with the South African Police Service.”

Train lines run beneath the M1 where the fire occurred and the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) said it had to move trains to safeguard them from damage.

“Train crew members at home were promptly activated to move the locomotives and coaches to a safe location to prevent exposure to the fire,” said Prasa.

This is not the first fire to have torn through Johannesburg’s underbelly. In March 2022, parts of the CBD were plunged into darkness after a tunnel fire triggered a power outage. That incident left residents without electricity for a week.

Cable and infrastructure theft continue to plague Gauteng, with criminals becoming more brazen and sophisticated. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Johan Buys says:

    Cable theft is blamed.

    Cables are supposed to have breaker protection that will trip electricity within fraction of a second. There is no way a copper cable should overheat and catch fire.

    People stealing high voltage cable don’t do so while the cable is energized.

  • Denise Smit says:

    Gauteng starting to be Haiti. We next expect the gangsters to take charge of a city with no water, no electricity, no roads. Poor Gautengengers. You got what you voted for . Al Jamal, EFF and ANC

  • #MYANC government is refusing to ban recycling of copper and other scrap metal. This government is contributing to damage of infrastructure loss of economic activity by business and the public

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