39 cheat death, US$500 000 property destroyed

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ABOUT 39 people housed at a Mpilo Central Hospital residence scrambled to escape through a single window on Wednesday night after the building was gutted by fire due to a suspected electric fault.

The near-death experience resulted in one of the doctors suffering a broken ankle as he tried to jump his way out of the two-storey building.

Residents had to come out using one window as the ferocious fire had spread throughout the whole building and blocked all exit points.
Among those who were thrown out of the blazing fire on Wednesday are children who had to seek alternative accommodation for the night while members of Fire and Ambulance Services battled to put out the fire for hours.

Only a handful managed to save some of their property which was thrown out through windows before the roof caved in, destroying everything.

Property worth over US$500 000 was destroyed.

The 1 000-bed public hospital services Bulawayo Metropolitan Province, Matabeleland North and South, Midlands and Masvingo provinces.

This was the third fire incident at the public health institution whose cause is still being investigated.

In 2018, another Mpilo doctors’ residence was gutted by fire and property worth US$300 000 was lost.

Another incident was recorded in June 2019 when a doctor slept, leaving his heater on, which resulted in fire and him losing household property.

When a Chronicle news crew arrived at the hospital yesterday morning, firemen were clearing what was left of the building.

Charred ceilings were still falling from some of the rooms while most of the property was reduced to ashes.

One of the victims, Dr Gabriel Magengezha, who was visibly shaken, said he only escaped with his life and could not save anything from his room.

He said although he was supposed to be on duty at Mpilo, he did not have anything to wear save for the shorts, T-shirt and slopes that he jumped out of the window wearing.

“It was around 10.30PM and I was watching TV when I sensed some strong smell as if someone was burning plastic. For about two minutes I continued watching TV and then realised that the smell was getting stronger,” said Dr Magengezha.

“I then stormed out of the room only to realise that a cloud of smoke had already covered our passage. I went to the main switch. When I went to the passage it was already covered in smoke and there were some yellow flames coming from the switch board. I then shouted and asked people to come out of the rooms and quickly went back to my room as the fire quickly spread to the whole building.”

Dr Magengezha said as he went into his room, lights went out and he was forced to use his phone torch to try and look for his documents before escaping.

“I was in shock and I just froze when I heard people screaming that we should try throwing property through the windows. I then opted to go out as the fire had spread, meaning I could die while thinking about what to save. When I tried using the staircase, I realised that all exit points had been covered with ceiling and we ended up opting for one free window to escape from the building.”

He said he watched his years of labour being reduced to ashes but was grateful to escape unhurt.

“The whole ordeal was traumatic. We worked so hard for the property lost and within seconds I had nothing. Now we have to figure out how to bounce back and buy clothes, new property and food as we have nothing,” he said.

“I am, however, grateful to the fire services guys, they were so swift, within minutes they were here putting out the fire. I went back into my room to check around 1AM and everything I had had been reduced to ashes.”

He said the doctors do not have clothes to wear and food which may affect their duties.

“We need accommodation and food for now so that we are at peace and gather strength to at least bounce back. I was supposed to be at work today. I do not even have anything to wear, the trauma is unbearable,” added Dr Magengezha.

One of the affected ladies said she had not been able to get over screams that woke her up when the fire started.

“I heard screams and woke up to hear people asking us to escape using just one window. I quickly dressed my two children and ensured that we escaped without any injury. We still cannot recover from the trauma as we could have easily died while using one window to escape as the collapsed roof had blocked all exit points,” she said.

Speaking to journalists after touring the gutted building yesterday, Industry and Commerce Deputy Minister Raj Modi said lack of maintenance could have caused the fire.

He said the last time the fire resulted from an electrical appliance that was left on and this time it could have been an electrical short circuit.

“Whatever happened here was bad, we have to work together and as Government, we will do everything possible to help them reconstruct the building. We hear there were some sparks that were coming out beforehand and I think that is how the fire started,” said Deputy Minister Modi.

“On the maintenance side, I think there is neglect for some of these things. I think the institution’s administration should pay attention to electrical faults and other reports and move swiftly before the worst happens.”

Mpilo acting chief executive officer Professor Solwayo Ngwenya said the hospital is arranging temporary alternative accommodation for affected families in local lodges.

He said one person suffered a broken ankle and another had smoke inhalation effects but is stable.

“We woke up last night after receiving the bad news and rushed only to find three fire engines struggling to put out a ferocious fire that had gutted our building. The roof had already collapsed and I was relieved to hear that our staff members and their families had already jumped out of the windows to save their lives although only a few managed to come out with some property,” said Prof Ngwenya.

He said some staff residents reported seeing sparks of fire from an electrical distribution box which could have caused the fire.

“However, the Fire Brigade is working on further forensic investigations to establish the exact cause of the fire. The estimated cost of damage to property is around US$500 000. We hope to rise up from this terrible setback, and continue to give service to many of our patients,” he said.

He called on well-wishers to partner with the Government and help health care workers with accommodation, food and clothes.

“We are very lucky no one died but sad we have lost quite a big chunk of our staff accommodation and property. The fire services will do an extensive investigation into what caused the fire which is actually the third incident here at Mpilo and repairs will be a big cost to our fiscus.”

Bulawayo City Council Chamber secretary Mrs Sikhangele Zhou said fire fighters could only save the bottom floor of the two-storey building.

“Our investigators are still on the ground because we spent the whole night trying to put out the fire. We got the calls at 11.04PM and we were here at 11.09PM but the top floor was already well alight and we managed to save the bottom floor. We are still investigating and once we are done, we will let you know what we think caused the fire,” said Mrs Zhou. chronicle

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