Fire Crews Work to Save Parliament

Flames reignite in South Africa
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jan 2, 2022 10:15 AM CST
Updated Jan 4, 2022 1:10 AM CST
Fire Crews Work to Save Parliament
A fire burns Sunday at the Houses of Parliament in Cape Town, South Africa, on Sunday.   (AP Photo/Leon Knipe)

Update: The fire sweeping through South Africa's Parliament complex was said to be under control Monday, but reignited hours later. The National Assembly, or lower chamber, is completely destroyed, the BBC reports. Flames were still seen coming from the building Monday night, and the fourth and fifth floors were also said to have been completely destroyed. Some important areas, including a museum holding historical objects, were saved, Reuters reports. The 49-year-old male suspect has been arrested and will be in court Tuesday on charges of arson, housebreaking and theft. Our original story from Sunday follows:

A major fire ripped through South Africa's Parliament complex on Sunday, gutting offices and causing some ceilings in the building that houses the national legislature to collapse. As firefighters struggled to tame the blaze, a dark plume of smoke and flames rose high into the air above the southern city of Cape Town, the AP reports. Around 70 firefighters were still battling the fire more than seven hours after it started in the early morning, Cape Town's Fire and Rescue Service spokesman Jermaine Carelse said. Some were lifted on a crane to spray water on the blaze from above. No injuries have been reported, and Parliament itself had been closed for the holidays.

Visiting the scene, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said a person was "being held and is being questioned" in connection with the blaze. "The fire is currently in the National Assembly chambers," Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure Patricia de Lille told reporters as smoke billowed behind her from the roof of the historic white building with grand entrance columns. "This is a very sad day for democracy, for Parliament is the home of our democracy." She said the fire in the National Assembly was not contained. "Part of the ceilings have collapsed," she said. A team had been put in place to protect the president's Cape Town office, which is very close to Parliament.

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The Cape Town official in charge of safety and security said at least one floor of the Parliamentary office building was "gutted" and its entire roof had collapsed. Firefighters were now focusing their efforts on saving the National Assembly building, where South Africa's parliament sits, he said. Carelse warned that buildings were at risk of collapsing and that historical artefacts inside were likely to be damaged or destroyed. "The bitumen on the roof is even melting, an indication of the intense heat. There have been reports of some walls showing cracks, which could indicate a collapse,” News24 website quoted Carelse as saying.

(More South Africa stories.)

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