Tragedy strikes Stellenbosch


A fire has left all 164 residents of Huis ten Bosch Women’s Residence without a permanent roof over their heads. According to Wayne Smith, Fire Chief at the Stellenbosch Fire Department, the fire affected rooms 3020 to 3030 on the third floor of the residence and a total of ten rooms were destroyed.

Smith, who was not on the scene, cited an official report compiled by the team of 16 firemen that were responsible for containing and extinguishing the fire on Monday 12 August. According to the report, the roof on the third floor was burned through and the remaining parts of floor were also affected by heavy smoke and water damage.

The Fire Department received the first call at 19:20 and handed over the building to Stellenbosch University (SU) officials at 22:10, the fire having been extinguished. According to the accounts of various Huis ten Bosch residents on the night, all 164 women were evacuated safely to Wilgenhof Men’s Residence. This was later confirmed by Prof. Wim de Villiers, SU Rector and Vice Chancellor, and in the report by the Stellenbosch Fire Department.

At the time of print, the causes of the fire were unconfirmed, but Smith said that the possibility of an electric short-circuit could not be ruled out. “If one looks at the statement given by the lady in whose room the fire started, it looks like it could have been a short-circuit. She did not give an official statement, but communicated to some of the members of the fire team. We still have to find her and con-duct the necessary interview.”

According to a source close to the Huis ten Bosch leadership structures, the residence had been experiencing power trips on the third floor for at least two weeks preceding the fire. “There had been instances over the past two weeks where the power tripped in the section in which the fire occurred,” she said.

According to the source, the after-hours number for Campus Security was called every time the power tripped. “There was an electrician who came to switch on the mains every time the power tripped, but no one was sent to find out what was actually causing the power to trip the whole time. Over the long weekend a call was logged for someone to find out what was causing the problem.”

Apparently, nothing came of the alleged call. Susan van der Merwe, Director of Communication and Stakeholder relations, and acting media correspondent in the absence of Martin Viljoen, SU spokesperson, explained the procedure for lodging complaints after hours.“If, after hours, any incidents are reported, they are reported at the control room at Campus Security. There are always two Facilities Management employees who serve as support personnel on standby. They are deployed to attend to complaints. There is an electronic system that logs all calls to Campus Security.”

According to Van der Merwe, she enquired at Campus Security about the calls made concerning the power trips at Huis ten Bosch. Campus security apparently had no immediate knowledge of the calls. “I will have to find out from Facilities Management if some-thing like that occurred, but at this stage I have no knowledge what-soever of such reports.”

The residents of Huis ten Bosch are currently housed at various locations across Stellenbosch and have been at the receiving end of a magnitude of donations.

Further investigations into the nature of the fire will apparently be conducted by the loss adjudicator of the insurance company in the service of SU with the support of the Stellenbosch Fire Department, according to Van der Merwe.

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