Cause of Twaloloka fire a puzzle

Fire hydrants blocked by onlookers
Leandrea Louw
Walvis Bay • [email protected]

The Walvis Bay Fire Brigade had their hands full trying to subdue a massive fire in Twaloloka on Sunday evening.

The fire claimed the life of a little boy and left hundreds of people homeless.

About 150 shacks were burnt to the ground, leaving residents with nothing but the clothes they were wearing at the time.

The situation worsened when onlookers began pelting the fire brigade, police reservists and the municipality with stones.

Later on it emerged that it was not the residents of Twaloloka who clashed with the armed forces.

A firefighter said that they had to extinguish the fire while a group of onlookers armed with pangas and okapi’s (pocket knives) surrounded them in a threatening manner.

Dennis Basson, the Walvis Bay fire chief, said that the members of his firefighting team are all okay, except for a few bruises and scratches.

“One of the firefighters was hit on the nose and threatened with a panga. Otherwise they are doing okay. Some of the firehoses were also cut. Without the police and the armed forces providing protection, the situation would have been much more disastrous.”

Cause

Basson said that establishing what had caused the fire would be impossible.

“I can guarantee that we will not be able to determine the exact cause of the fire since the scene was tampered with. The scene was disturbed as there was way too much interference.”

The site of the fire was only cordoned off by police on Monday morning at approximately 10:00.

Firefighters engaged the people at the scene on Sunday to try and establish what might have caused the fire. “We understood that a candle might have been involved, however this is not conclusive.”

Basson explained that there are three fire hydrants in Twaloloka.

“We specially installed the hydrants last year, but we simply could not access them with all the people at the scene of the fire on Sunday night.”

Quick response

He said that the fire brigade received a call at 19:32 and the first crew left for Twaloloka at 19:40.

“The first crew went out with two fire trucks and our water tanker to assist with additional water. Upon arrival we realized it would be a challenge since people parked their vehicles in the roads and were standing all over the scene.”

According to Basson this made it almost impossible for the firefighters to get as close as possible to the scene.

“Another challenge was that we could not implement a proper strategy to fight the fire since we could not deploy our trucks and equipment properly. We were battling with people hampering us in executing our official duties.”

The municipal water truck was pelted with stones and the driver had to hide at the back of the seat in the truck during the onslaught. He was treated in hospital for his injuries and has since been discharged.

The fire chief refutes allegations that fire trucks are parked without water at the fire station.

“It is law, internationally, that you keep your fire trucks filled and parked with water. The only time a fire truck is without water is when it is taken out of the fleet for repairs or written-off. The moment we get called out for a fire, that truck must be ready. For us to first fill up a truck before going to a fire scene would waste 10 to 15 minutes which is precious time when dealing with a fire. This has never and will never happen.”

Basson advised that everyone should know emergency numbers.

“The fire brigade’s emergency number is 081 922. At all times make way for fire trucks to reach the scene. Bystanders should immediately give way for the firefighters to deploy their equipment properly. Please be patient during these trying times. We really need to assist each other in any way we can.”