South Africa Fire: At Least 73 Dead in Building Fire in Johannesburg

Lynsey Chutel

A fire tore through a building in downtown Johannesburg early Thursday, killing at least 73 people and injuring dozens of others, city officials said.

The authorities were still trying to determine what caused the blaze, which consumed a five-story abandoned building that had been overtaken by squatters and had become a sprawling informal settlement.

Mgcini Tshwaku, a Johannesburg city councilman who oversees public safety, said that when he arrived at the scene, the structure was in flames and people were jumping out of it. It is one of many dilapidated buildings in the city where people without places to stay have taken up residence, Mr. Tshwaku said in an interview on ENCA, a South African television news station.

People often light fires inside these informal settlements to keep warm, Mr. Tshwaku said. Many abandoned buildings in the city have been taken over because of a shortage of affordable housing, he said.

By midmorning, the fire had been extinguished and firefighters were combing the scene, floor by floor, searching for bodies. Smoke still rose from the first story, where the fire was believed to have started.

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