At least 63 killed as fire engulfs five-storey building in Johannesburg

At least 63 people have died in a fire in a multi-storey building in Johannesburg, South Africa’s biggest city, emergency services have said. A toddler is among those killed.

Emergency Management Services said a further 43 people were injured in the blaze, which broke out early on Thursday.

People have been evacuated from the building, and the emergency services spokesperson said a search and recovery operation was under way. It was likely the death toll would rise, Robert Mulaudzi said, and it was not immediately clear what caused the blaze.

A firefighter at work.
A firefighter at work. Photograph: Michele Spatari/AFP/Getty Images

“Over 20 years in the service, I’ve never come across something like this,” he added.

Inside the five-storey building was an informal settlement, Mulaudzi said. “So there [are] a lot of informal structures inside the building. There is a lot of debris that we have to remove.”

The local television station Newzroom Afrika said the building had been abandoned previously but was still inhabited at the time of the fire.

Authorities said the blaze had been largely extinguished but smoke still seeped out of the blackened building in downtown Johannesburg.

Television footage showed fire trucks and ambulances outside the property, which had burned-out windows and had been cordoned off by police.

A security guard cordons off a street at the scene.
A security guard cordons off a street at the scene. Photograph: Michele Spatari/AFP/Getty Images

It was the fourth “older building” to catch alight in the city in recent months, the local news organisation Times Live reported.

Earlier in August, a fire tore through the top floor of a building in the suburb of Yeoville, near the central business district, and in June two children were killed in a blaze in Hilbrow. In July, a fire broke out after an underground gas explosion.

Reuters, the Associated Press and Agence France-Presse contributed to this report