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South Africa: A devastating fire in Parliament resumes after a period of lull

South Africa: A devastating fire in Parliament resumes after a period of lull

The fire broke out for the second day in a row at the South African Parliament in Cape Town, as firefighters battled a new enemy on Monday night: strong winds that ignited violent flames that were under control several hours ago.

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Late in the evening, emergency services had no idea how long it would take to get through the fire, which suddenly resumed just before 5 p.m. (3:00 p.m. GMT) without causing any casualties. A thick plume of smoke sounded the alarm, and within a few minutes, flames were billowing from the windows and the roof of the imposing Victorian building.

“The winds are making things difficult,” firefighter spokesman Jermaine Karls told AFP, adding that “the fire has resumed on the roof of the National Assembly building.”

The day before, the wooded room with the leather chairs where the deputies sit had been completely destroyed. “There won’t be a meeting for long,” Carles said.

In this last part of the vast edifice of three buildings built at different times, firefighters first had to retreat on Sunday in the face of the severity of the blaze. But they succeeded in taming the flames during the night, and they then revealed a wet black corpse, the mournful remains of the room.

France Press agency

In the morning, the emergency services announced that they had reached the end of the disaster. Night shifts had passed his hand, leaving the scene at the wheel of trucks under the bravery of passers-by and the journalists at the gate, in general. But they warned: inside this hell, the temperature remained incredibly high in some places, exceeding 100 degrees Celsius.

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About sixty firefighters are still working. Machines capable of pumping water at great heights despite the wind reaching the site.

A 49-year-old man was arrested in Parliament on Sunday and charged with “burglary and arson”. He will be brought to justice on Tuesday.

On Sundays the fire began at about five in the morning, in the oldest wing of the building, completed in 1884, with the old rooms clad in precious wood and adorned with rich fabrics. This historical part, which once hosted parliamentarians, houses a library and museum.

Parliament contains about 4,000 works of art and heritage, some of which date back to the 17th century.

France Press agency

There the ceiling was completely destroyed, leaving a large gap, but the valuable collection of books and artwork appears to have been salvaged.

The last building that houses Parliament’s upper house, called the National Council of Provinces, remains inaccessible, but aid workers believe the damage will be mainly related to tons of leaking water and smoke. Here, too, priceless artifacts are preserved.

Midday a government delegation met with experts and engineers to take an initial inventory and assess the cost of repairs. But the operation was limited for security reasons, and experts tried to obtain images from a drone before it was interrupted by the resumption of shooting. An initial report is due on Friday.

President Cyril Ramaphosa visited the site on Sunday.

According to the investigators, the fire broke out in two separate houses and the automatic extinguishing system was not working properly due to a water cut.

Surveillance cameras showed that the detainee was present at about two o’clock in the morning. “But the security didn’t see her until around 6 a.m. when they looked at the screens alerting the smoke,” Public Works Minister Patricia de Lille told AFP.

“Appeals are in place, but we didn’t expect it to be this serious,” she added.

Parliament was already damaged by the fires, which were quickly contained in March. Cape Town has been the seat of Parliament since 1910, when the government was installed in Pretoria.

France Press agency