PROPERTY worth millions of dollars yesterday went up in smoke after an inferno razed a warehouse at the Beitbridge Customs and Excise Station.
BY REX MPHISA/TAFADZWA KACHIKO
Fire-fighters trying to put out a blaze that gutted the Beitbridge Zimra warehouse yesterday
It is the third State warehouse at Beitbridge to go up in flames in the past few years.
The warehouse was filled with goods seized at the Beitbridge Border Post almost a year ago. Ideally, the goods should have been auctioned within three months of seizure.
A security guard reported seeing smoke coming out of the building at 6:30am, but efforts to put out the fire by local firefighters failed as they had to fetch water about 2km from the scene.
Zimra acting spokesperson Chennai Muwonwa said are yet to establish the cause of the fire.
“We have not yet established the cause of the fire and damage because I have not been on the ground. I am currently in Bulawayo and I will be back in Harare tomorrow, so I expect to hear updates at around 11 am [tomorrow] and give you concrete responses,” Muwonwa said.
Muwonwa said questions had been forwarded to Beitbridge and she was awaiting response.
A Zimra officer who spoke on condition of anonymity said ill-equipped local firemen failed to douse the inferno.
“Our warehouse has been gutted by fire just after 6am and what caused the fire has not yet been established. Two fire brigade vehicles came to extinguish the fire, but that was too late and I doubt if they had water,” the official said.
Beitbridge’s head of the Civil Protection Unit, Kilibone Ndou Mbedzi, said there was need for a bigger fire station in Beitbridge.
“This is not the first fire of such a magnitude and we need a bigger fire station. It’s unfortunate this is coming after a storm disaster again,” she said.
Mbedzi, who is also the district administrator at Beitbridge, sent an SOS to the Musina Municipality, whose crew arrived within minutes.
“There are plans for a bigger fire station at Beitbridge in the upcoming upgrade of the border post, but we need it now rather than later. It’s not only the border post, but even the residential areas where fires have broken out,” she said.
“This is quite a blow,” Mbedzi said.
Beitbridge town clerk Loud Ramagkapola concurred, calling on the government to speed up construction of a bigger fire station in Beitbridge.
“It is sad that we have fires and not able to effectively put them out. We call on government to speed up the construction and equipping of a fire station as planned under the border modernisation programme.
“As council, we will try our best to look for resources for our fire team so that we can effectively respond to fires. Our fire tender, which only carries 1 000 litres of water, has become small for the municipality,” Ramagkapola said.
Scores of travellers, police, including the entire district command, customs, immigration and other border officials and stakeholders watched helplessly as the fire burned away goods worth millions of dollars.
Customs and Excise fire tenders, which should have been at the scene first, could not start and still had not started when help from South Africa arrived.
All border post hydrants were malfunctioning and fire crews collected water about two kilometres from the scene.
Police criminal investigators paced up and down for first traces of evidence, as flames leaked through windows of the building, whose eastern side was littered with scorched remnant pieces of steel from a similar warehouse fire in 2014.
Another warehouse was torched in 2014 by demonstrators who protested against an unpopular Statutory Instrument 64 of 2016 that banned the importation of basic goods, sparking nationwide riots that started in Beitbridge.
Closed circuit television cameras meant to capture activities inside the border post were reportedly not functional after the building housing the system was blown by a storm two weeks back.