Mpilo fire leaves 39 traumatised Mpilo Central Hospital doctors lost property worth over US$500 000 in a fire outbreak on Wednesday night. — Picture: Eliah Saushoma.

Bulawayo Bureau 

ABOUT 39 people housed at a Mpilo Central Hospital block scrambled to safety through a single window on Wednesday night after the building caught fire due to a suspected electrical fault.

The near-death experience resulted in one of the doctors suffering a broken ankle as he sought to jump out of the two-storey building.

Residents had to come out using one window as the ferocious fire had spread throughout the whole building and blocked all exit points.

Among those who were thrown out of the blazing fire on Wednesday are children who had to seek alternative accommodation for the night while members of Fire and Ambulance Services battled to put out the fire for hours.

Only a handful managed to save some of their property which was thrown out through windows before the roof caved in, destroying everything. Property worth over US$500 000 was destroyed. The 1 000-bedded public hospital services Bulawayo Metropolitan Province, Matabeleland North and South, Midlands and Masvingo provinces.

This was the third fire incident at the institution whose cause is still being investigated. In 2018, another Mpilo doctors’ residence was gutted by fire and property worth US$300 000 was lost.

Another incident was recorded in June 2019 when a doctor slept, leaving his heater on, which resulted in fire and him losing household property. When our Bulawayo Bureau arrived at the hospital yesterday morning, firemen were clearing what was left of the building.

One of the victims, Dr Gabriel Magengezha, who was visibly shaken, said he only escaped with his life and could not save anything.

“It was around 10.30pm and I was watching TV when I sensed some strong smell as if someone was burning plastic. For about two minutes I continued watching TV and then realised that the smell was getting stronger,” said Dr Magengezha.

“I then stormed out of the room only to realise that a cloud of smoke had already covered our passage. I went to the main switch. When I went to the passage it was already covered in smoke and there were some yellow flames coming from the switch board. I then shouted and asked people to come out of the room and quickly went back to my room as the fire quickly spread to the whole building.” 

Dr Magengezha said he watched his years of labour being reduced to ashes, but was grateful to escape unhurt.

Speaking to journalists after touring the gutted building yesterday, Industry and Commerce Deputy Minister Raj Modi said lack of maintenance could have caused the fire.

He said the last time the fire resulted from an electrical appliance that was left on and this time it could have been an electrical short circuit.

“Whatever happened here was bad, we have to work together and as Government, we will do everything possible to help them reconstruct the building. We hear there were some sparks that were coming out beforehand and I think that is how the fire started,” said Deputy Minister Modi.

Mpilo acting chief executive Professor Solwayo Ngwenya said: “We woke up last night after receiving the bad news and rushed only to find three fire engines struggling to put out a ferocious fire that had gutted our building. 

“The roof had already collapsed and was relieved to hear that our staff members and their families had already jumped out of the window to save their lives although only a few managed to come out with some property.” 

“The estimated cost of damage to property is around US$500 000,” he said.

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