A day Swakopmund will never forget

Messages of support and comfort stream in from across Namibia for Johan and Leonie Swanepoel of Dolphin Pharmacy and Dr Rüdiger Moisel after a fire gutted the pharmacy and consulting room on Tuesday. An electrical short circuit is believed to have started the inferno in which, miraculously, everyone escaped unharmed.
According to a preliminary investigation, the fire started a few minutes before 14:30 in the consulting room of Dr. Moisel. The building is situated on the corner of Sam Nujoma Avenue and Nathaniël Maxuilili Street with the pharmacy occupying most of the floor space.
It is believed the fire was caused by an electrical short circuit in electrical installations located behind the receptionist desk. The outbreak of the fire was noticed almost immediately and a fire extinguisher was immediately at hand. However, the flames spread so rapidly that soon there was nothing people could do, other than to evacuate the building.
“I saw a lady running to the pharmacy to get another fire extinguisher, but by the time she got back to the consulting room it was engulfed in smoke. It was too risky to enter due to the smoke and soon it was engulfed in raging flames”, an eye witness told namib times. A handful of people from other businesses in the vicinity also ran to their aid with fire extinguishers, but the fire was already out of control.
Swakopmund’s Fire Chief, Adri Goosen, got an emergency call at about 14:34. About ten minutes later five fire fighters as well as a dozen fire-fighting volunteers were on the scene. In total, some 20 firemen jumped to action. By then the fire already destroyed the consulting room and was spreading towards Dolphin Pharmacy on Sam Nujoma Avenue.
Three fire trucks, one carrying 5 000 liters of water and two others transporting 2 000 liters each, were deployed. “We immediately started fighting the blaze,” said Goosen.
Immense volumes of water were required. The fire brigade’s first setback came when a fire hydrant across the street (at Bonus Marktplatz) was useless, as it did not have sufficient water flow due to a water pressure problem. There are construction activities in the immediate rea and therefore the fire hydrant could not be routinely tested in recent weeks.
The Fire Brigade was now racing for time. They activated a second fire hydrant on Nathaniël Maxuilili, south of the intersection with Sam Nujoma Avenue (at Wynkelders Bottle Store), but by that time the heat in the burning building reached such extreme temperatures the smoke had turned yellow, Goosen explained. Bystanders had to take cover as stock items in the pharmacy like deodorants started to explode.
Tenants in neighbouring properties on Sam Nujoma and Nathaniel Maxuilili also fought fiercely to prevent the fire from spreading to their businesses. Garden hoses were used to wet the roofs and others stated to carry valuables out of their shops, should the fire start to spread. Thanks to these heroic efforts the fire could not spread and it gave the firefighters the opportunity to concentrate all their resources on the fire in the pharmacy and consulting rooms.
Businesses like Bears Furnitures, Swakop Optics and Fine Art Gallery were saved. “We rushed all our paintings out to safety,” explained Martina von Wenzel of the Fine Art Gallery. Similarly, the staff of the music shop Young Ones were saved as bystanders carried all valuable equipment across the street to the clothing outlet of Lohmeiers Men’s Outfitters.
The fire was under control within 30 minutes after the arrival of the Fire Brigade. A total of 14 000 liters of water was required. According to Goosen firefighters were on standby until 20:30 to prevent flare-ups.
Many businesses in the vicinity closed their shops during the fire to prevent hot ash, cinders and smoke starting more fires. The Southwester that was blowing at the time sent cinders flying for hundreds of meters increasing the risk of secondary fires starting.
Shortly after the devastating incident messages of sympathy and support for the owners of the pharmacy and the medical consulting room started to stream in. Employees were standing in front of the shops, speechless and shocked.
Renovations to modernize the Dolphin Pharmacy were almost complete. Only finishing touches were still required. Nothing is left. Dr. Rüdiger Moisel had been practicing from that location since 1990.
Goosen thanked volunteers and members of the public for their assistance. Law enforcement officers also assisted effectively to keep crowds of bystanders at a safe distance.

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