Tsoanelo Sefoloko, GroundUp6 March 2024 | 6:51

Firefighters battled to extinguish fatal factory fire because Verulam has no water

Three bodies have been recovered, and one person is missing. The area has been without water for more than four months.

Firefighters battled to extinguish fatal factory fire because Verulam has no water

Three bodies were recovered after a fire at a factory in Verulam. Picture: Tsoanelo Sefoloko/GroundUp

Firefighters struggled to extinguish a fire at a furniture factory in Verulam, north of Durban, because of a lack of water.

The area has been without water for over four months.

Eleven water trucks from Mount Edgecombe and Durban North had to be dispatched to provide water, according to Verulam fire department division commander Bruce Begier.

“We had to send the water tankers to different places to fetch water … We usually take up to an hour to extinguish a fire, but due to the water challenge and the building that collapsed we took longer,” said Begier.

The fire started just after midnight on Saturday, according to KwaZulu-Natal police spokesperson Nqobile Gwala.

It took most of the night to extinguish. The ruins were still smouldering on Monday.

Four people are believed to have been in the building.

Three bodies that were burnt beyond recognition were recovered, said Gwala.

Faruk Joege, who worked at the factory, said the victims had been sleeping in the building because they did not have enough money to travel to their homes in Tongaat.

Shaibu Kammwamba, from Malawi, said he was saddened that contrary to his religion he could not immediately bury his brother. The families have to wait for a forensic investigation and DNA identification to be complete. He said he has no money to repatriate the body.

Verulam water crisis committee chairperson Roshan Lil-Ruthan said in a media statement, “The Ethekwini Municipality must answer as to why the fire hydrants had no water”.

“It is abundantly clear that had there been sufficient water supply, lives could have been spared, and the factory could have been salvaged,” he said. “This tragedy serves as a wake-up call to the urgent need for proper water management.”

Provincial labour department spokesperson Nhlanhla Khumalo said an inspection and investigation into the factory fire was underway and a preliminary report would be released as soon as possible.

In a media statement on 28 February, the eThekwini municipality said it was replacing air valves on the Northern aqueduct pipeline. The reservoirs then had to recharge. “The City remains committed to improving water supply to affected communities and various interventions will continue to be explored as we are not out of the woods yet,” the statement said.

This article was first published on GroundUp. Read the original article here.