The building that caught fire in downtown Johannesburg on Thursday morning was one of more than 600 abandoned buildings in the city that have been illegally occupied – or “kidnapped”, as locals say – according to Magsini Chuaco, a Johannesburg City Council member who oversees safety. the public.
He said in an interview that about 30 of the buildings are owned by the city, while the rest are privately owned.
This year, Mr. Chuaco started a program to inspect such buildings and work to remove residents due to the dangerous living conditions. He added that city inspectors recently visited the building where the fire occurred on Thursday, and found conditions similar to those of other buildings deemed precarious.
He added that many of them lack fire exits, fire extinguishers, and sprinklers, and often do not have running water, electricity, or functioning bathrooms. He added that residents make fires in search of warmth and light, which can easily lead to deadly fires.
Mr Chuaco said preliminary evidence indicated that the fire started on Thursday on the ground floor. He added that the security gate surrounded many residents who were unable to escape.
Mr. Chuaco said the operation to clear illegal buildings inspected 14 of them. One challenge, he said, is that the city lacks the resources to provide alternative housing for the people it is evacuating, as required by law.
Mr. Chuaco said the city is trying to talk to the tenants of the run-down buildings individually to determine their needs. He said that when residents can afford a place on their own, city officials work to help them find a place to go, and that has helped reduce the number of people who have had to be placed in shelters or other accommodations.
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