Statement: Fire at Van der Sterr Building


On Sunday morning, 22 February 2015, a fire damaged parts of the Van der Sterr-building on the campus of Stellenbosch University (SU).

Just before 09:00 a fire alarm was activated in the control room of Campus Security and within 10 minutes Campus Security, the fire brigade and senior SU-staff were on the scene. By 09:15 it was confirmed that no staff or students were inside the building. At around 11:00 the fire was under control. On Sunday afternoon the fire brigade was still on the scene to secure the building.

The roof and third floor on the northern and eastern sections  of the building suffered the most damage.  Fire walls probably prevented the further spreading of the fire to the rest of the building. The cause of the fire and the extent of the damage are  still unknown. The University’s insurers will initiate a forensic investigation. “It is with shock and regret that we have learned about the fire, but we are relieved that there were no injuries or lives lost,” said Prof Leopoldt van Huyssteen, Chief Operating Officer, and acting Rector and Vice Chancellor.

“Contingency plans were activated immediately to manage the situation and to ensure that academic activities continue with as little disruption as possible. A big thank you to the emergency services and everybody who pitched in to assist .”

A contingency committee met from 12:00 until 15:00  to discuss the necessary  measures and to take action. A number of sub-committees were formed to deal with different aspects.

The building accomodates various departments and divisions of SU’s Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences (EMS), among which the School of Accounting, Centre for Statistic Consultation, Postgraduate Laboratorium for Logistics, a computer user area as well as workstations for a number of PhD candidates. About 75 staff members work in the builing and up to 2 500 students per period attend classes in the building, including some from other faculties.

“Alternative arrangements are being made to reschedule tests and classes, and to accomodate staff elsewhere. Announcements  regarding this will follow as soon as possible,” said Prof Stan du Plessis, Dean of the Faculty of EMS.

Parts of the building escaped the blaze, but it is still too soon to say if any activities will be able to resume there. When the forensic investigation is completed, the necessary arrangement will be made to allow staff and students with propety inside the building access.

In 2010 the RW Wilcocks-building was damaged in a fire, but was rebuilt and reopened in 2013. Lessons learnt from that fire – and other incidents on campus, among which the fire at Eendrag Mens Residence – have been implemented all over campus.  Fire prevention measures – including fire walls and alarms have been installed. A fire wall in the Van der Sterr building possibly prevented the fire from spreading further.

Everybody who have been affected by the fire will receive assistance. Counselling will be provided, and funds will be made available to replace urgent books and equipment. The building is covered by the University’s insurance, but investigations must be completed before subsequent processes  can be finalised.

  • Staff and students who are affected by the Van der Sterr fire, can send an email to vandersterrinfo@sun.ac.za.
  • Keep an eye on the SU website – www.sun.ac.za – for further announcements. The SU Twitter account and Facebook page will also be used for distributing information.

University staff have been making alternative arrangements for lecture halls, offices and computer user areas on Sunday. Further arrangements will be announced on the website of the Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences. All students who have attended classes in the Van der Sterr building are requested to consult the website regularly.

SOURCE:University of Stellenbosch

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