Electrical fault caused the fire at Denel’s Macassar plant, internal investigation finds

An electrical fault in a light fixture was probably the cause of a fire at the Rheinmetall Denel Munition (RDM) Somerset West depot near Macassar in the Western Cape on 31 October last year. 

Months after a fire at the munition manufacturer’s N86 building lit up the night sky, an internal investigation by RDM “has determined that the fire was most likely caused by an electrical fault in a light fixture in the building. Emergency response was immediately activated when the fire broke out. It was contained to the building and no injuries were reported,” reads its statement. 

The investigation indicates the electrical fault in the light fitting led to melted material falling on stored material used for manufacturing processes, causing the fire. 

RDM said that no explosion occurred. A “flashover” was caused when “pressure built up in the building when the material ignited”. Although the walls of the building remained intact, the flashover resulted in the roof being dislodged.  

Jan-Patrick Helmsen, RDM’s chief executive, said: “The internal investigation found that the emergency response was immediately activated and all systems were in place to contain the fire. While this electrical fault could not have been predicted or planned for, we are using what we have learned from this to implement measures and systems aimed at preventing a repeat of this incident.”

In addition to the 70 health and safety protocols officials at the depot, Helmsen said that everyone at RDM played a role in ensuring a safe and healthy workplace, adding: “But we must learn from this experience and use what we have learned to bolster safety in our facilities.”

The fire, the fifth incident since the blast in 2018 in which eight people died and one person was injured, prompted opposition parties, civil organisations and unions to ask for the munitions plant to be removed. But JHelmsen previously told the Mail & Guardian that the groups did not discuss this with the manufacturer.

Helmsen also previously said RDM “meets the required international International Organisation for Standardisation [ISO] safety standards” and “we comply with all required legislation and the company is regularly audited and tested by third parties including the department of employment and labour and the department of environmental affairs”.

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Eunice Stoltz
Eunice Stoltz is a general news reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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