Gareth Wilson email@example.com
NELSON Mandela Bay’s firefighters had their work cut out for them yesterday battling a blaze at Greenacres shopping centre as well as 15 bush fires around the city.
The Greenacres fire, which started at Checkers and damaged 26 other shops, is the fourth electrical fire at business premises in Newton Park this month, but experts said there was no link between them.
Fire officials were alerted to the blaze at 3.19am by Greenacres security guards after they noticed smoke billowing from the Checkers end of the centre.
A police officer at the scene said the dense smoke made it difficult initially to see exactly where the fire was inside the building.
“There were no flames, just lots of smoke. Firefighters broke open the House and Home entrance door to gain entry to Checkers.”
A total of five fire engines were dispatched to the scene. Traffic officials partially closed Ring Road from 4am until late yesterday while firefighters were busy inside the centre.
A joint operational command post was erected shortly after the fire was extinguished for emergency workers to monitor the smouldering debris throughout the day.
Greenacres Centre manager Brent Starr said 26 of the centre’s 85 stores sustained smoke and water damage.
“Fortunately, the fire department managed to contain the fire to the Checkers store. As a result, the surrounding stores only sustained smoke and water damage,” he said.
“Our loss assessors are still in the process of establishing the estimated value of the damage.
“Once the fire department is finished, our engineers will go inside to establish how safe the centre is before we open the doors.”
The damage is expected to run into the millions of rands. Firefighters said they suspected the blaze had been caused by an electrical fault.
Municipal spokesman Kupido Baron – who speaks on behalf of the fire department – said part of the Checkers building had started to collapse while the fire was being extinguished.
“At about 5am, parts of the Checkers roof started to collapse,” he said. “A short while later, the fire was contained and they [firefighters] continued to dampen the area.”
Baron said the cause of the fire was being investigated.
Shortly after 8am, staff were seen inside the centre with brooms and mops, sweeping out the water. By 1.30pm, firefighters were still damping down the smouldering debris.
Devastated shopping centre tenants said they were “horrified and amazed” that the fire could have happened.
Pollock’s Kodak Express employee Marianne Williams said she arrived shortly after 7am to find firefighters busy in the centre.
“I went in with some colleagues and found our shop under water. There was smoke everywhere,” she said. “I am not sure of the damage but it doesn’t look good. I am worried about some of our machines as they cost millions of rand.”
Cut Above hairdressing salon owner Corinne Ward sat on the pavement outside the centre in shock as the firefighters continued their damping down operation.
“I am devastated. I am really worried about the loss of income and problems this could cause to my shop,” she said.
“The worry is also that my shop depends heavily on foot traffic and with the major chain stores being closed as well it will definitely affect the number of people coming to the centre.”
Police spokesman Captain Johan Rheeder said a case of arson had been opened, but it was standard protocol and did not mean foul play was suspected. “It is merely procedure in a case such as this one,” he said.
“We don’t have any details yet as the investigation is still in the early stages.”
Last week, two electrical fires were reported at the Greenacres Office Park, across the road from Checkers. Yesterday’s fire was the fourth electrical blaze in the Newton Park area this month, according to officials. They could not give further details on the other fires.
While several Newton Park business owners said yesterday they feared the fires could have been caused by the increasing strain on the power grid in the area due to the rapid development of the suburb, Baron dismissed their concerns.
“We monitor the power network from our control room on a 24-hour basis and take appropriate action when required.
“The fire at the Greenacres Shopping Centre started after 3am when the electricity load was low and, as a result, we consider the claims to be not valid or constructive,” he said.
Baron said the fire department deserved high praise for containing all the fires.
“Rescue pumps were dispatched and arrived within minutes after an emergency call was received from Greenacres Security at 3.20am.
“The fire in Checkers was contained and the hard-working firemen and women ensured that it did not spread to other parts of the centre.”
He said firefighters were busy for much of the day fighting bush fires in Diaz Road, Kensington, opposite the Dutch Reformed Church at St Albans, Harrington Street in Salt Lake, Samantha Way in Framesby and a bush fire behind the Sanctor High School, the Stanford Road bridge, the Arlington tip and three in Lakeside and other areas.
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