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Illustration by Security Management

Fire Guts Parts of South Africa Parliament Complex

Portions of South Africa’s Parliament building in Cape Town were gutted by a large fire on 2 January. The roof of one building collapsed, and the fire tore through the National Assembly chamber, CNN reported. Firefighters worked for more than 24 hours to bring the flames under control.

“The entire Parliament complex is severely damaged, waterlogged, and smoke damaged,” said J.P. Smith, City of Cape Town safety and security official. Parliament was closed for the holidays, however, so no injuries or fatalities were reported.

Firefighters arrived at the parliamentary complex around 6:00 a.m. local time, and they had some initial difficulties accessing the site of the fire due to the building’s security features, said Smith. The fire alarm system also appeared to not function properly—firefighters were onsite before the system alarmed, he added.

“The electricity at the complex did not trip when the fire started,” Smith said. “That created a very dangerous situation, and the entire block’s electricity had to be disconnected. The fire detection equipment took a while to activate, so the fire was active for a while.”

In addition, someone turned off a valve, preventing a fire sprinkler system from functioning, said Patricia de Lille, minister of public works and infrastructure. It is unknown if this was intentional or accidental. Many South Africans have questioned why no one was on the premises to actively react to the fire, but according to The South African, there was no security staff because Parliament could not afford to pay them overtime.

Smith estimated that the assembly hall is 98 percent destroyed and will need hundreds of millions of rands worth of repair work.

Authorities arrested a man in connection with the fire. He is expected to appear in court tomorrow on charges of breaking and entering, theft, and arson, according to The Washington Post. He will likely also be charged under South Africa’s National Key Points Act, which controls access to places of national importance and government buildings.

The South African reported that the 49-year-old suspect was allegedly caught in possession of stolen property after he gained unauthorized access to the parliamentary precinct in Cape Town.