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Fire guts historic cottage

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The fire broke out on Wednesday night after 8pm and extensive structural damage was caused to the building

Picture: Soraya Crowie

THE NEGLECTED historic houses that belong to the Department of Health in Memorial Road have been declared unfit for occupation after one of the semi-detached cottages was gutted by fire.

The fire broke out on Wednesday night after 8pm and extensive structural damage was caused to the building.

The fire department has advised the department to take steps to ensure that no one enters the building as it poses a safety hazard, where the department could be held liable in the event of injury.

While neighbours in the area said that up to 100 squatters were occupying the semi-detached cottages, there was no one in sight when firefighters arrived on the scene.

A heap of mattresses, clothes, shoes and other belongings of vagrants living there are still lying in the yard as well as inside the house.

A fire is believe to have been started inside the house during one of the coldest nights experienced in Kimberley this winter, as a cold front swept through the city this week.

Large portions of the roof as well as the flooring was destroyed in the fire.

Police spokesperson, Captain Olebogeng Tawana, said that the Kimberley police have opened an enquiry into the incident.

“One person was taken in for questioning and was later released. The investigation is ongoing,” said Tawana.

Residents living in Memorial Road said that up to 50 people had been living in the house that was damaged by the fire while another 50 vagrants were occupying a duplex that is overgrown with weeds.

“Homeless people, drug users, hawkers, prostitutes and criminals sleep in the houses and we wonder where they will sleep now. We also do not know if they will be returning, if they have nowhere else to sleep.”

The houses have been stripped of their windows, doors, floorboards and frames.

“The houses that were declared national monuments might as well be demolished. It is a mystery why the department no longer rents out the houses when there is such a shortage of rental accommodation and office space,” residents said.

Sol Plaatje Municipality spokesperson Sello Matsie said that they had requested the police to investigate a case of arson.

“The fire started in one of the rooms where someone was sleeping. The fire spread quickly as the building has wooden floors. The houses are completely unsafe and we discourage anyone from sleeping there as the ceiling may collapse at any time due to the fire damage,” said Matsie.

The Northern Cape Department of Health had previously indicated that a construction company would be on site in April to renovate the houses so that the buildings could be used for “operational purposes”, however, no work has commenced so far.

The spokesperson for the MEC for Health, Lebogang Majaha, said plans were under way to refurbish the dilapidated houses and turn them into additional office space for the department, while they would also ensure that the buildings were secured.