Fire guts Autoquip Complex: Millions lost, shop owners in despair

Goods valued at over Z$2 million went up in flames when a fire tore through the Autoquip complex on Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo Street in Bulawayo, with shop owners left devastated by the losses.

The complex housed various shops selling motor spares and accessories, clothes, electrical gadgets, printing services, and more. Only a few shops escaped the blaze.

An eyewitness who spoke on condition of anonymity told CITE that the fire broke out in the early morning hours on the first floor and quickly spread throughout the complex.

“The fire started very early, before 5 AM,” the witness said. “I was with a colleague who works at one shop here. I called a friend with a shop here, but there wasn’t much he could do since he was still at home.”

“It started at a shop on the first floor and spread towards the right side. The fire brigade arrived quickly but had trouble finding hydrants. They had to wait for another vehicle. By then, the fire had engulfed the building. This is a terrible sight. I had a shop here, but I just moved to a nearby building recently.”

CITE spoke to some shop owners who described the pain caused by the fire’s destruction. Andrew Ndlovu, who had a motor spares shop, said he had just stocked Z$10,000 worth of spares the previous night, all of which were lost.

“I’m speechless,” he said. “I just stocked my shop last night with spares I imported from South Africa. Everything is gone.”

“Even if someone had called me, there was nothing I could do. I was just starting this business; I got the shop two months ago. It’s really hard. Now I have to start all over again.”

Another employee, who requested anonymity, lamented being unemployed until the owner recovers.

“We’re now jobless,” he said. “How will we sell our wares now? We need money to restock. How will we support our families?”

One of the lucky shop owners, Mrs Ruzani, expressed disbelief at her good fortune.

“I don’t know how these few shops survived,” she said. “It can’t be cleverness, but it’s grace. Now, our biggest concern is finding a new place to trade because this one will likely be closed for renovations.”

Chief Fire Officer Nhlanganiso Moyo said an unattended electrical appliance is suspected to be the cause of the fire.

“The estimated total value of the property is Z$4.5 million, with an estimated loss of Z$2 million. We deployed seven fire engines and contained the fire within an hour,” Moyo said. “The fire involved thinners, oils, blankets, motor spares, tyres, gas, and dashboard spray cans. We urge shop owners to keep flammable materials away from heat sources, practice good housekeeping to ensure proper storage, and install fire detection systems.”

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