“I’m finished. I’m finished, my brother,” said an owner of one of the businesses gutted by a fire in Rivonia on Saturday afternoon.
A special range of thousands of rands worth of imported whiskies, top-range wines, expensive hairstyle products, equipment and groceries were destroyed at an upmarket shopping mall on Rivonia Boulevard in Sandton.
Shop owners watched as their investments were consumed by raging flames, which spread to nine stores through the wooden roofs.
Owners who spoke to City Press expressed their devastation and shock after the fire, which allegedly broke out in the kitchen at Istanbul Kebab & Shawarma restaurant.
Eight people had to be rushed to hospital for minor burns and smoke inhalation, according to City of Joburg (CoJ) emergency management services spokesperson Nana Radebe.
Radebe said no fatalities were reported.
She said they received a frantic call after 1pm that there was a fire at the shopping centre.
“On arrival, we found that it was a restaurant at which it is alleged the fire started in the kitchen after a gas bottle exploded. Fortunately, many people managed to evacuate the restaurant and other businesses nearby,” Radebe said.
She said a preliminary investigation was under way to determine the cause of the fire.
Joseph Manachi, a family friend of the owners of Boulevard Cellars, alleged that the emergency services arrived late and failed to contain the fire.
“The emergency services are to blame for this thing. When this thing started, we came out running with fire extinguishers. We started getting it under control. We sprayed water from the rooftop of the building next door to try to calm it as much as possible. We called emergency services. Literally five minutes after the fire started, we pretty much told them that there were big gas bottles here and we needed them to come urgently.
“The first truck arrived here after an hour probably. They could not connect to any of the hydrants. They started spraying water on where the fire was already dead,” Manachi said.
He said they asked firefighters to keep the fire under control between the restaurant and the bottle store, but they allegedly failed to do so.
Manachi said they had told the emergency services that there were shops with liquor on the shelves and the fire could spread to a nearby petrol station.
“This is a poor reflection of what’s going down in government,” Manachi said.
“I’m horribly disappointed with the CoJ. Our bottle store is probably the best in the country. If they got in here within an hour, we could have put this thing out and stopped it,” Manachi said.
Radebe, however, denied that they responded late.
“We received a call at about 1.40pm and our first fire engine was on the scene at 2.10pm, and it was coming from another emergency. To get a fire hydrant and connect to it is the first thing firefighters do on the scene. They had to first connect to the nearest fire hydrant,” Radebe said.
Kim Campbell, the owner of Blades Unisex Hairdressing Salon, said she was still reeling from shock.
“The hardest thing now is building the business again. Where do we go from here? Our equipment and our clients’ contact details are burnt,” Campbell said.