A major fire in the South African parliament in Cape Town continues to burn after more than six hours, with authorities fearing “significant” damage.
Footage broadcast on television showed flames leaping from the roof of a large building, while several others in the parliamentary district, including the National Assembly, were enveloped in a thick cloud of black smoke.
The fire is believed to have started in one of the older buildings in the district, leading to a security cordon near the cathedral where the ashes of anti-apartheid hero Archbishop Desmond Tutu were buried on Saturday.
“The roof has caught fire and the National Assembly building is also on fire,” said JP Smith, a member of the Cape Town Mayor’s Committee for Safety and Security. There were no casualties and the cause of the fire is not yet known.
Smith said the “fire is not under control and cracks in the walls of the building have been reported”. He added that the fire “is currently on the third floor – initial reports indicate it started in the office space and is spreading to the gymnasium”.
“The damage will be significant, especially if it’s not contained soon,” he said.
Emergency services feared the fire would spread quickly through the old rooms, which are decorated with thick carpets and curtains.
A team of 30 first-time firefighters battled the flames for several hours before being forced to retreat and call in reinforcements. Later, about 80 firefighters were deployed, some using a tap to spray water on the fire. The fire broke out at about 0300 GMT on Sunday.
In the National Assembly building, with a red and white facade, South Africa’s last apartheid president, FW de Klerk, declared the end of the brutal white minority regime in 1990.
The area surrounding the fire in the upscale neighborhood was quickly cordoned off. The cordon extended into a plaza where flowers were still displayed in front of nearby St. George’s Cathedral, where Tutu’s funeral took place on Saturday.
After a simple mass, with a cheap coffin—following Tutu’s famously modest instructions—his ashes were interred in the cathedral on Sunday.
Cape Town is home to South Africa’s seat of parliament, including the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces, while the government is based in Pretoria.
The Houses of Parliament in Cape Town consists of three parts, including the original and oldest building which was completed in 1884. The newer additions, built in the 1920s and 1980s, house the National Assembly.
In April, a fire on Cape Town’s Table Mountain, which overlooks the city, destroyed part of the University of Cape Town’s library containing a unique collection of African archives.