The inadequacies of the Harare Fire Brigade were exposed on Tuesday when goods worth thousands of dollars went up in smoke at a shopping mall in the downtown Central Business District, after its fire tender pitched up without water.
The incident took place at Billuz Mall along Leopold Takawira Street, which houses traders who sell school uniforms, blankets and ordinary clothing.
When a New Ziana crew visited the mall, some of the traders were busy salvaging some goods from the burnt rubble, while some street kids could be seen helping themselves to some of the items and making good their escape while daring the owners to stop them.
Some of the distraught vendors were sitting in cars weeping openly as they could not stomach their losses.
Mall manager Gerald Sumani told New Ziana that after being notified, the Harare Fire Brigade dispatched a fire tender which did not have water.
“The fire broke out around 6 in the morning when we opened. There had been a power cut the previous day when we left and we switched off the mains. We suspect that there was an electrical fault in one of the shops in the 1st Floor when the mains were switched on,” he said.
Sumani said he had to drive all the way to the Kuwadzana fire station, about 18 kilometers away from the CBD, to get a fire tender with water, which managed to douse the inferno but most of the goods had been destroyed.
“I had to go to Kuwadzana only to return after about two to three hours, and damage had already been done,” he said.
He said they suspected that the fire started in one of the shops on the 1st floor due to an electric fault since there had been a power cut the previous and the mains had been switched off overnight.
“There had been a power cut and when the mains were switched on after electricity was restored, we suspect that there was a short circuit on the 1st floor, hence the fire started,” he said.
Efforts to get a comment from the Harare Fire Brigade were fruitless as chief fire officer Clever Mafoti said he was out of town, while an official at the head office said they were not allowed to comment after they had left the scene.
The Harare Fire Brigade has come under fire over the years for its lack of preparedness to deal with fire emergencies, as on many occasions it has either pitched up without water or it arrived late after property would have been destroyed.
According to a 2020 report, the Harare Fire Brigade was operating with 10 fire tenders instead of the required 25 and had just 4 fire stations against the 10 that it requires to respond to emergencies in the city quickly. – New Ziana