Firefighters to withdraw from S.African Parliament as blaze contained

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The South African Parliament aid firefighters will assess for a possible total withdrawal from its precinct as the blaze that gutted various parts of the parliament has been contained.

The fire, which initially broke out early Sunday, extensively destroyed the interior of the building of the lower house National Assembly, with the lower house chamber completely burned down, and partly destroyed the roof, reports Xinhua news agency.

It also caused extensive damage to the Old Assembly building built in 1880s, which houses the National Council of Provinces (NCOP), the upper house.

The Parliament in a statement reconfirmed the containment of the fire, which flared up again Monday afternoon at the roof of the National Assembly building after the fire had been brought under control except for the smouldering fourth floor of the building, and said there has not been any further fire incident.

The fire service will hand over the National Assembly building to the South African police after ensuring its safety, read the statement.

There have been 300 firefighters working in shifts to contain the fire with over 60 fire engine vehicles since its outbreak, according to Parliament, adding that one fire engine remains at the scene currently, with five crew members working throughout all the floors, ensuring no flare-ups.

A reduced number of firefighters were closely monitoring and combing through the scene in the last 24 hours, it said.

The lower house’s chamber was used to host plenary sittings of the National Assembly and the joint sitting of the two houses before the fire.

The Mace, which signifies the authority and sitting of the National Assembly, was retrieved from its safe storage without any damage.

Both the parliament museum, including artworks and heritage objects, and the 112 meter-long and 70 meter-high Keiskamma tapestry, a “powerful symbol of our people’s Parliament”, on the ground floor of the Old Assembly Building, have not been damaged in the fire.

The tapestry made by women tells the South African story in beadwork, skins and embroidery from the perspective of ordinary people.

Before the resurgence of the fire, the Chairperson of the NCOP Amos Masondo told a media briefing that other important sections like the NCOP Chamber and offices, the Parliament Library were also saved.

According to Parliament, the State of the Nation Address scheduled on February 10, annual budget speech, and other programs will proceed as planned.

Parliament leaders have reassured political parties and other stakeholders to get to the bottom of how the incident happened.

It will conduct an internal investigation “on any lapse” that contributed to the incident.

A 49-year-old man “allegedly linked to setting parliament building alight” appeared in court in Cape Town on Tuesday and was reportedly remanded for seven days.

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