By GERALD IMRAY
CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) — Fire crews have continued to work at South Africa’s national Parliament complex in Cape Town on Monday after a major fire blazed through the buildings a day earlier, causing extensive damage.
The main chamber of the National Assembly was “completely gutted,” City of Cape Town safety and security official J.P. Smith said, and parts of the roof had collapsed.
“The entire Parliament complex is severely damaged, waterlogged and smoke damaged,” Smith said.
Firefighters were still working on “hotspots” in the National Assembly building more than 24 hours after the fire started, Cape Town Fire and Rescue Service spokesman Jermaine Carelse said. But the fire crews had been scaled back from around 70 firefighters Sunday to 20 by Monday morning.
Other buildings in the complex were also damaged by the fire that started early Sunday morning and spread from an old Parliament building that now houses offices to the National Assembly building.
With grand columns and stately white and red brick buildings, the Parliament complex has been at the center of South Africa’s history for more than 130 years. Some of the buildings have weathered British colonialism, the apartheid regime and South Africa’s transition to democracy under the presidency of Nelson Mandela.
A man arrested Sunday is being questioned in connection with the fire, police said. He is to appear in court on Tuesday and is expected to face charges of breaking and entering, theft and arson, while he will also be charged under South Africa’s National Key Points Act, a security law controlling access to places of national importance and government buildings.
The man had to be rescued from the fire on Sunday, according to South African media reports. Parliament was closed for the holidays and no injuries were reported.
Patricia de Lille, the Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure, said Sunday that someone had turned off a valve which prevented a fire sprinkler system from functioning.
She said an investigation into the cause of the fire has been taken over by the Hawks, a South African police unit that deals with serious and high-profile crimes.
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