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Deadly Joburg fire: Everything we know so far

The city's firefighters are still battling to contain and completely extinguish the fire, prompting Mayor Herman Mashaba to call on firefighting departments from neighbouring metros to help.

A firefighting crew assess the damage to a building in the Johannesburg CBD on 6 Septemer 2018. Picture: Christa Eybers/EWN

JOHANNESBURG - A devastating fire at the Department of Health building in the Johannesburg CBD has caused untold damage to the city.

The city's firefighters are still battling to contain and completely extinguish the fire, prompting Mayor Herman Mashaba to call on firefighting departments from neighbouring metros to help.

Here's everything else we know about the fire, so far:

THREE FIREFIGHTERS KILLED

A firefighter tragically fell to his death on Wednesday while trying to extinguish the fire which started on the 23rd floor. Six firefighters became trapped on the floor and a helicopter had to be used to try and evacuate them.

Sadly, two of the six trapped firefighters eventually died of smoke inhalation. All employees were however safely evacuated, with around 13 taken to hospital for medical attention.

FIRE CONTINUES LATE INTO THE NIGHT

More than seven hours after it broke out, firefighters were still seen working to extinguish the blaze.

Over a dozen firefighters were still inside after recovering the bodies of their colleagues.

BUILDING FAILED TO MEET SAFETY STANDARDS

Officials have confirmed the building failed to meet health and safety standards.

MEC for Infrastructure Development Jacob Mamabolo says an inspection of the building last month showed that only 21% of safety regulations were met.

Mamabolo further conceded that other buildings in the area need to be reinforced to meet minimum requirements.

INVESTIGATION INTO CAUSE OF FIRE

The Department of Infrastructure Development is investigating the cause of the deadly fire.

Mamabolo says four floors needed to be evacuated by the Labour Department last month due to poor building conditions.

The first, second, fifth and sixth floors were evacuated, and employees were moved to separate offices.

The Health Department says it did not receive a condemnation notice to leave the building.

FIRE COULD HAVE STARTED EVEN IF BUILDING WAS COMPLIANT

Mamabolo has confirmed receiving a warning about the substandard condition of several government buildings in the Joburg CBD.

“We’re now, based on that report, able to say what are things that need to be done to bring the buildings to a level of compliance that’s in line with minimum standards. So, this report that we commission, was in direct response to stakeholders over the years.”

But he says Wednesday's fire could have started even if the building was safety compliant.

“Fire can be caused arson, it can be caused by bringing in noncompliance devices into the buildings. It can be caused by all sorts of things.

“So, we must not conclude therefore that now that we’ve announced that the building was indeed noncompliant, and then we say that’s the cause of the fire.”

GOVERNMENT CALLS FOR SWIFT PROBE INTO DEADLY JOBURG CBD FIRE

Government has extended condolences to the families of the firefighters killed and called for a speedy investigation into the state of government buildings.

Communications Minister Nomvula Mokonyane made the comments at a briefing on the outcomes of the Cabinet meeting in Pretoria on Thursday.

Mokonyane says that Cabinet is concerned about those affected by this tragedy.

"On behalf of the South African government, we wish to extend our sincere condolences to the families of the firefighters who lost their lives whilst trying to extinguish fire in Gauteng.

"We wish a speedy recovery to those that have been admitted in different hospitals in Gauteng."

She says Cabinet has called for a swift investigation.

FULL REPORT BEFORE END OF THE WEEK PROMISED

Mamabolo says he will provide a full report on the investigation.

“I commit that before the end of next week, I’d have given a detailed and comprehensive assessment of the whole situation and we’ll be very transparent and open about what happened.”

The Gauteng government says workers will not return to the building until there has been a full inspection and it's safe to return.

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