A firefighter fell to his death while battling a blaze on the upper floors of a government building in the Johannesburg CBD on Wednesday morning, September 5, 2018. The city's department of public safety's Twitter account confirmed the death. Picture: ALON SKUY
A firefighter fell to his death while battling a blaze on the upper floors of a government building in the Johannesburg CBD on Wednesday morning, September 5, 2018. The city's department of public safety's Twitter account confirmed the death. Picture: ALON SKUY

Johannesburg fire chief Arthur Mqwa says the blaze that engulfed the upper levels of a building in the Johannesburg CBD on Wednesday has since spread to lower levels through ducts filled with paper and boxes.

"The fire spread through the ducts to the 16th floor because there were papers and boxes in those ducts‚" he said during a briefing at Milpark Hospital‚ where four firefighters were undergoing treatment for burn wounds and smoke inhalation. "What I am trying to say is that the building was not sealed. It did not comply with the [emergency services] bylaws."

Three firefighters died fighting the blaze on Wednesday. Overnight‚ firefighters were dispatched from other metros to help the City of Johannesburg’s exhausted teams.

Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba‚ who visited the building on Thursday to inspect the flare-up‚ was also at the hospital. Eight firefighters were admitted‚ but four have been discharged.

"Of concern to me is the state of our city. In my 100 days in office‚ I raised the question of the safety of the City of Johannesburg‚" said Mashaba. "I said we’d have to take back this city. We need to act and act with pace. I can take you to 100 buildings [around Johannesburg] where tragedy can happen anytime."

Most of the fires that happen in Johannesburg are due to recklessness‚ Mashaba added. "This incident will expedite my resolve to take back the city." He said buildings that do not comply with safety standards need to be demolished to avoid such incidents.

MMC for public safety Michael Sun said the city is struggling with a shortage of fire engines. "We are going to make the procurement of fire engines a priority. We have a massive backlog."

Gauteng MEC for infrastructure development Jacob Mamabola has asked for reinforcements from neighbouring cities.

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