School picks up pieces after blaze

The building was closed off and declared unsafe.

Wynberg Boys’ School has been overwhelmed by the support they have received after one of their academic blocks was gutted by a fire in the early hours of Thursday, August 4.

The following day, headmaster Jan de Waal said the fire had been extinguished without injuries reported. “The fire gutted four classrooms and an office, and a further four classrooms below have received extensive water damage. Until the damage has been assessed, we have asked learners to remain at home for Thursday and Friday,” he said. The school is celebrating its 175th anniversary this year.

When the Bulletin visited on Friday expecting to find a huge mopping up process, instead areas were cordoned off with red and white tape. I was told not to enter the area as forensic experts were gathering information.

Upstairs, in C block, corridors normally noisy with the chatter of broken voices were eerily silent except for water dripping into puddles reflecting damage caused by fire.

Splashing through puddles, water dripped through ceilings as charred beams protruded from the roof.

Mr De Waal, who lives in a heritage building on the schools grounds, said he and his wife Anne were woken just after midnight to cracking and popping.

Ms De Waal called fire services only to find their caretaker, Cecil Malan, who lives on the premises, had already called them.

He initially heard a bang and thought someone was breaking into the school. Instead, the fire, which appears to have originated in an office on the upper floor of that section of the school building, is thought to have been started by an electrical fault.

Mr De Waal said downpipes, roof tiles and beams had been destroyed in the top floor of the south section of the school, overlooking the open air amphitheatre. As far as they could see, four classrooms had been destroyed in the fire although 18 were affected at that time with debris from the fire.

He said they were unable to do any mopping up until fire forensics had been through that building but they would be able to begin cleaning over the weekend.

He said re-building would be covered by their insurance.

Mr De Waal said he cannot believe how much support they have received from schools and Old Boys around the country and also overseas, offering learning space and messages of support.

Mr De Waal said school was due to resume yesterday, Wednesday with a “platoon” system, with juniors being taught in the morning while seniors do sport and vice versa in the afternoon. This means that pupils will only have missed two days of school.

Fire and rescue service spokesman Theo Layne, said firefighters had arrived at the school, in Herschel Walk, at 1am, on Thursday August 4. The fire, he said, had been in one of the academic wings on the second and third floors and had badly damaged the building and furniture.

“The probable cause of the fire is an electrical short circuit. No injuries were reported and the school was unoccupied at the time of the fire,” said Mr Layne.