Dozens Killed as Fire Blazes Through Settlement

Johannesburg building was full of 'informal structures,' firefighters say
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 31, 2023 3:54 AM CDT
Updated Aug 31, 2023 6:03 AM CDT
At Least 73 Killed in South Africa Fire
Fire fighters work on the scene of a deadly blaze in downtown Johannesburg Thursday, Aug. 31, 2023.   (AP Photo)

More than 70 people were killed early Thursday when fire swept through a five-story building in South Africa's biggest city. Authorities say squatters had moved into the formerly abandoned building in Johannesburg's central business district and created an "informal settlement" with many shack-like structures inside, the BBC reports. The debris and structures made it hard for people to escape the blaze and has complicated search and rescue efforts, firefighters say. Authorities say at least 73 people died and the death toll is expected to rise. More than 50 other people were injured, including some who jumped from the burning building.

Johannesburg Emergency Services Management spokesman Robert Mulaudzi says at least seven children, including a 1-year-old, are among the dead, the AP reports. Mulaudzi says it took more than three hours to contain the fire. "Over 20 years in the service, I've never come across something like this," he says.

There's a shortage of affordable housing in Johannesburg and the dilapidated building was one of many known as "hijacked" buildings inhabited by squatters, many of them undocumented immigrants. The cause of the fire is unclear, but it's winter in South Africa and Johannesburg city councilman Mgcini Tshwaku says people often light fires to stay warm inside informal settlements, the New York Times reports. (Read more South Africa stories.)

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