Cause of Twaloloka fire ‘impossible’ to determine

Firefighters had to fight bystanders and the blaze at the same time.

29 July 2020 | Disasters

LEANDREA LOUW

WALVIS BAY

The Walvis Bay Fire Brigade had their hands full trying to subdue a massive fire in Twaloloka settlement this past Sunday evening, while being protected by police from an angry mob armed with knives and pangas.
The blaze claimed the life of a three-year-old boy and left hundreds homeless.
About 150 shacks burnt to the ground, leaving residents with nothing but the clothes they were wearing at the time.
The situation worsened when onlookers began pelting firefighters, police reservists and municipality workers with stones.
It later emerged that it was not Twaloloka residents who clashed with the armed forces.

Scratched and bruised
A firefighter said they had to extinguish the fire while a group of onlookers, armed with pangas (machetes) and okapis (pocket knives) crowded around them.
Fire chief Dennis Basson said the members of his team are all okay, bar a few scratches and bruises.
“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.”

Impossible
Basson said establishing what 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 was only cordoned off by police on Monday morning at approximately 10:00.
“We understood that a candle might have been involved, however, this is not conclusive.”
Basson further said 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,” he said.

Quick response
He said 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 realised 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 close 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,” he said.

Treated for injuries
Meanwhile, the municipal water truck was pelted with stones and the driver had to hide in the truck during the onslaught.
He was treated in hospital for his injuries and has since been discharged.
The fire chief refuted 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.”

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