/ 28 October 2010

Blaze closes Pretoria Magistrate’s Court

A blaze that ripped through the third floor of the Pretoria Magistrate’s Court brought the wheels of justice to a halt as officials announced on Wednesday evening that court operations would be suspended.

Staff had to be evacuated after the fire broke out shortly before 2pm.

Firefighters battled for several hours to contain the blaze as much of the roofing structure was tin and timber, which kept on reigniting.

By nightfall there was still visible smoke, but no flames. The roof had collapsed.

Department of Justice spokesperson Tlali Tlali said all staff were safely evacuated without injury.

Tshwane metro fire spokesperson Johan Pieterse said one firefighter was taken to hospital where he was treated for heat exhaustion; he had since been discharged. No other injuries were reported.

“It started at the offices. Everyone was evacuated and no one was injured,” said Pieterse from the scene.

By 5pm the entire top floor of the building was gutted.

Large clouds of smoke ballooned over the city, while firefighters wearing gas masks battled the blaze from platforms raised above the court building.

The cause of the fire was not known.

The new magistrate’s court building was unaffected by the fire.

Pretorius Street and Schubart Streets, flanking the court, were closed as nine fire engines were at the scene. A number of ambulances were also on standby.

The large blaze attracted a huge crowd, who stood behind a police tape barrier and watched as firefighters attempted to prevent the blaze from reaching the bottom floors of the building.

Emergency meeting
Tlali said court management had held an emergency meeting.

Most of the damage was in that part of the court building where the civil litigation court roll for trials and motion applications were dealt with, and these had been suspended until further notice.

He said criminal cases had been temporarily postponed and first-appearance criminal matters would be handled at the Pretoria Central Police Station.

All family matters would be diverted to the Visagie Street court where the traffic court used to sit, and any other matters would be referred to other courts around the city after assessment.

He said there would be officials and marshals to assist and direct members of the public and transport would be made available for people whose cases may have been referred to other courts around the city, including those that could be referred to the Atteridgeville court.

Justice and Constitutional Development Minister Jeff Radebe said: “We urge our law enforcement agencies to work around the clock in order to get to the bottom of the cause of this fire.

“Should any foul play be detected, those responsible for this must be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.” — Sapa