Saturday, January 17, 2009

Tracker Offices Burn Down

The earliest known photo of the fire (above). Click on the photos for a bigger image.
Tracker is a national vehicle theft recovery and tracking service. Their head office building is next door to where I live, and they used to run a 24 hour call centre from the top floor. At 2:35 am today my wife woke me to say that the building was on fire. By 3:30 the entire top floor roof was destroyed, and the fire was still raging.

Anton Pietersen took this video

I took around 20 pictures, the best ones are here. My neighbours have been asking wild questions like "How could a building of this size not have a sprinker system?" Personally I think sprinklers in the ceiling would not have stopped the roof from burning down. No one has any idea how or where the fire started. That doesn't stop the wild speculation.
The ground floor seems unaffected, with lights on in the canteen area, and some computer monitors in ground floor offices on and working. Bizarrely, the switchboard message system was working at 4am, but when I asked to be put through to report a vehicle stolen, I got a "this line is not working" beep. Since the upper floor was burning, I'm not surprised. I wonder how long it will take Telkom to reroute the number? By 7.45am (when I called) their emergency call centre number was working again. I understand it was already switched over by 5.30.

Gareth Crocker, Communications Manager for Tracker left the following comment at 11am:
I would just like to let everyone know that Tracker's emergency call centre was recently moved from that building and escaped unscathed. We have a disaster recovery site and plan for this kind of thing which we are rolling out as we speak.
We don't anticipate major disruptions to our business come Monday morning.
Clearly their disaster recovery plan is working, and was well planned. It's also good to know no one was injured or burnt. I'm glad the call centre wasn't damaged, but the part of the building that used to house it is gone. I'm also glad no one was in the building at the time.
The intense heat from the roof burning is something I won't forget in a hurry.
It's an eery sound: there were no sirens or buzzers going off: just the occasional woosh of something bursting into flames, and the occasional sound of a computer monitor or something exploding from the heat.
You can view the (intact) building on Google Earth at 26° 7'55.74"S 27°58'47.86"E. My wife took the video on her phone.

The building in the foreground of these first pictures (below) is our block of flats. The view is looking through the trees to the inferno behind:
Update 4.30am: the fire department ran an additional fire hose to the hydrant across the street. This gives them an additional supply to the one in the office complex. By 6am it was no longer needed, as the flames had been put out.
Update 6am: More pictures now that the sun has risen.
The building in daylight, with the roof missing.
A weary fireman turns off the extra connection that crossed over the road. By 6am it was no longer needed.
A fireman on the top floor stands on the balcony above the cafeteria. You can see the wooden tables and umbrellas outside, and fire hoses running inside the building.
Update 7am: more pictures, and the smell of wood smoke.
The last few tendrils of smoke rise from the building. I guess the burning wood smell will be around for days to come. It's not unpleasant, and could have been a lot worse. The fire trucks had mostly left by around 7am.

Update 1.30pm: My neighbour Anton Pietersen took his video at between 2.30 and 3.05am, when the roof of the East wing (above) of the building was still burning. At 2pm a gentle rain helped damp down the ash. Now the slow process of cleaning up begins. I don't envy the Tracker guys that job, but at least they're safe.
Update 21 January 2009: I met with Piet Fourie, from the insurance company, and gave him copies of all the photos and videos, and made a statement. It looks like it could cost around R40 million to rebuild the building and replace all the damaged furniture. There is water damage on the floors that didn't have fire damage. The building entrance is destroyed as well, and so it's basically unusable for now.

6 comments:

Wreckless Euroafrican said...

Great coverage and pics. Thanx. You should shop them off to the media - could make some bucks!
Salagatle!

Gareth Crocker said...

Hi there,

This is Gareth Crocker - Communications Manager for Tracker. I would just like to let everyone know that Tracker's emergency call centre was recently moved from that building and escaped unscathed. We have a disaster recovery site and plan for this kind of thing which we are rolling out as we speak.

We don't anticipate major disruptions to our business come Monday morning.

Kind regards,
Gareth Crocker.

Donn Edwards said...

Gareth I'm really glad the building was empty. One always hopes to never have to use an emergency plan, and you guys seem to have done an amazing job. Best wishes in trying to clean up.

Anonymous said...

Hi,

Thanks for the pics and the video. Does anybody know what time the fire brigade arrived on scene?

Kim

Donn Edwards said...

My first fire truck picture is 3:03 am. My first fire picture is 2:37am. I have no idea how accurate the clock is in my camera, or what time the fire actually started.

My neighbour phoned the fire service, and I'm sure that 011-375-5911 has a record of the dispatch and what time they arrived.

Anonymous said...

I work for Tracker....
thanx to the person who called the fire brigade it could have been worse. we love our company Tracker....


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