Hammer blow as fire destroys panelbeaters

Cars sent for fixing go up in flames as blaze rips through Fort Jackson firm

M&K Bodyworks employees Unathi Ngedle and Nyameko Mgqibelo are unsure of their future after the panelbeating firm was hit by fire this week.
M&K Bodyworks employees Unathi Ngedle and Nyameko Mgqibelo are unsure of their future after the panelbeating firm was hit by fire this week.
Image: SIBONGILE NGALWA

An apparent out-of-control veld fire caused R45-million worth of damage at panelbeating shop, M&K Bodywork, in Fort Jackson this week.

The fire is believed to have started late on Tuesday afternoon and, according to company owner, Bulelani Kilana, workers at a neighbouring factory had called the fire department to report the fire.

Kilana said the workers had told him they had been told upon reporting the fire, that firemen were already at the end of their shift and the message would be relayed to the next group of firefighters.

Kilana said he had left the premises at 6.15pm having locked up for the day on Tuesday. “After taking home one of my employees, I received a call at 6.50pm that the business next to mine was on fire, so I rushed back to offer help, only to find that my shop was also burning,” said Kilana, who bought the existing business in 2015 and was not insured.

Another call had apparently been made to emergency fire services, who arrived on the scene at 7.59pm. The firefighters apparently arrived in one staff vehicle and a water tanker that, according to Kilana, ran out of water before they could douse all the flames.

An additional tanker and a fire engine arrived at 8.34pm, but by then the roof had collapsed, damaging all vehicles on the floor.

Back-up fire engines were called to assist, while the firefighters tried to find alternative water sources in nearby warehouses. “An additional tanker and a fire engine arrived at 8.34pm, but by then the roof had collapsed, damaging all vehicles on the floor,” claimed Kilana.

He explained: “We had around 30 cars in the workshop at the time of the fire”, adding that “there were six Quantums, four Crafters, a Ford Ranger and a Mazda CX3 which had just arrived that day”.

By 10.15pm all flames and any smouldering patches had been put out.When the Daily Dispatch team visited the workshop, M&K employees were there in force, even though there was no work to be done, having collectively decided to support their employer.

Nyameko Gqibelo, an employee at the workshop, said he was devastated to find his workplace destroyed, and was worried that it meant he could now be out of work. His co-worker Unathi Ngedle echoed his sentiments saying he had been employed at the shop since 2013, when it had been owned by someone else.

Kilana said he had been admitted to hospital for stress following the fire. On being discharged, he had the sombre task of informing his customers about the fire and the loss of their cars and said most of them were understanding about the situation.

“One customer however came to me with a car full of relatives, however after telling the customer that I was unable to drive, as per my doctors orders, he was adamant on coming to my home, and at that point I felt threatened,” he said.

He has filed an official police report on the fire at Nyibiba police station in NU1, Mdantsane.

Aside from the damaged cars, Kilana also lost machinery and branding equipment that they had acquired through the National Youth Development Agency and will now have to start his business from scratch.

ECDC head of properties Pamela Mfingwana confirmed the incident saying: “Two ECDC factories at Fort Jackson suffered fire damage on July 3 and vehicles and other movables were extensively damaged”.

The Dispatch approached the fire department, but they would not comment on record, saying the person authorised to speak to the media was not available at the time.

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