WATCH: Inferno leaves hundreds reeling. . . dawn home industries blaze levels factory shells, renders over 700 jobless Firefighters after dousing the blaze yesterday

Nqobile Bhebhe and Flora Fadzai Sibanda, Chronicle Reporters
OVER 700 jobs were lost while the lives of several small-scale formal traders operating at the once-thriving Mpopoma Outspan factory are at stake after their factory shells were gutted by fire with property worth millions of dollars going up in flames.

The traders lost furniture and equipment when the fire broke out yesterday morning resulting in the factory being reduced to rubble.

The fire broke out around 5.45am in a small section of the vast factory and quickly spread.
The factory, popularly known as Spamprekini, is situated along Nketa Drive adjacent to Mpopoma Recreational Park.
So enterprising was the factory that Mpopoma Outspan Association had perfected its operations to a level where both big and small buyers from different parts of the country flocked into the humble factory to place their orders.

Last year, Chronicle established that the factory produced around 400 high-quality lounge suites per month, 300 wardrobes and 250 kitchen units.

Now the factory with all its machinery has been reduced to ruins.
When the Chronicle news crew arrived at the scene shortly after 6am, scores of stall owners and residents stood in utter disbelief as they watched helplessly their source of income vanishing in a puff of smoke. Visibly shaken workers, some still in pajamas, watched as fire fighters battled to put out the blaze.

Some, with tears rolling down their cheeks, braved the raging fire as they stormed inside the factory in a desperate bid to salvage some of their merchandise.

One of the local residents, Mr Trynos Kapfudzaruwa, broke a gas tank stall whose roof was burning to retrieve tanks.
“I had to do it to save the factory. I do not own a stall in this place, but I saw it fit to assist because this has been an economic empowerment place for most people in our area,” he said.

The news crew also observed one woman with a baby strapped on her back, entering her stall to retrieve her stock.
According to a Bulawayo Fire Brigade official preliminary report, the first unit from Nketa arrived on site at 6.22am.
The report states that the suspected cause of the fire was “carelessly discarded lit material”.

“The entire premises were well alight with large volumes of smoke issuing out. Flames could be seen from a distance and producing serious crackling sounds,” read the report.

“The Fire Brigade observed that the entire club was involved, and that the materials mainly involved were timber, foam rubbers and other accessories all used towards the manufacture and repair of sofas and beds.”

According to the report, 75 percent of large quantities of timber, sofas, bed material and tools were damaged. The estimated value of the property is $350 million while the estimated loss is $175 million.

The factory had a furniture manufacturing section, grinding mills, a tombstone-making area, a kitchen with different small food outlets, a gas selling point, a tuck shop, and a poultry area with chickens.

Mpopoma Outspan Association vice chair, Mr Voice Moyo, who has been working at the factory since 1996, said they are devastated.

“We are in deep shock and devastated by what happened. We have lost everything and millions of finished products, materials and equipment have been lost,” he said.

“We are appealing to the Government to assist us to get back on our feet. Official members in our database are 227 and all of them lost everything.”

One of the furniture manufacturers, Mr Tadiwanashe Gamuchirai, said he noticed fumes from a distance and immediately rushed to retrieve his machines.

However, he lost all his finished products comprising couches and beds.
“I don’t know where l am going to get the money to refund some customers who had already paid deposits,” said Mr Gamuchirai.

Ms Nelisiwe Moyo, who run a kitchen shop, said the disaster is a huge blow to their business as the factory was their only source of income.

“I was alerted by a friend that the factory is on fire. Knowing that l had my property inside, I immediately ran to the scene,” she said.

“I could not believe my eyes when l saw flames and everything was destroyed. I am grateful to the people who helped me to remove my property before it was destroyed.”

A Mpopoma resident, Mr Tinashe Mpofu, said he was compelled to assist retrieve an assortment of equipment.
He said the factory also created employment opportunities for youths and women.

“I hope that they had insured their business ventures so that they can start rebuilding their empire again,” said Mr Mpofu.

Mr Isaac Masimba said although he managed to salvage a few items, he lost all his machinery.
“I have been operating here for the past 10 years. All my machinery and finished products have been destroyed. It’s unbelievable and we don’t really know the cause of the fire,” he said.

Another devastated stall owner, Mr Taurai Toma, said he lost property worth estimated US$2 million.
“Over 700 jobs have been lost and my appeal to the Government is an urgent financial bailout. I lost 15 complete sets of sofas each costing US$500 and I did not recover anything,” he said.

A tombstone maker, who declined to be named, said the site employed hundreds of people who are now jobless.
Over the past decade, Bulawayo has witnessed the emergence and growth of the informal sector spurred by the closure and relocation of big companies.

This has resulted in mushrooming of SMEs set up by skilled personnel who lost their jobs in various sectors of the economy ranging from furniture, leather sector, farming to information and technology.
@nqobilebhebhe @flora_sibanda

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