Fire Crews Continue Working Blaze That 'Completely Gutted' South Africa's Parliament

Sunday morning, South Africa's National Assembly building in Cape Town experienced a fire so strong that firefighters were still working on putting it out Monday.

Cape Town Fire and Rescue Service spokesman Jermaine Carelse said firefighters are still working on "hot spots" in the government building, though they have scaled back from 70 firefighters on Sunday to 20 on early Monday.

The fire began in the offices on the third floor, then quickly spread throughout the National Assembly building, the BBC reported. Because Parliament was not in session for the holidays, no one was reported injured.

Police said a man was arrested Sunday for questioning in connection to the fire. The BBC reported that the man is not a parliamentary employee. He allegedly entered the building through a back window.

He faces charges of breaking and entering, arson and theft, as well as violating the country's 1980 National Key Points Act, which protects certain locations important to the government from sabotage.

South African media reported that firefighters had to rescue the man from the blaze on Sunday.

According to Patricia de Lille, the minister of public works and infrastructure, someone turned off a valve to prevent the building's sprinkler system from helping to put out the fire. It is not currently clear whether the man who was arrested did this.

J.P. Smith, a city of Cape Town safety and security official, said the building's main chamber was "completely gutted" by the fire, with parts of the roof collapsing.

"The entire Parliament complex is severely damaged, waterlogged and smoke damaged," Smith said.

In addition to the structural damage, the BBC report said there might be damage to some of the artwork and historical artifacts that were housed in the building. Officials are especially concerned about the Keiskamma Tapestry, an art project made by rural Xhosa women depicting the last 150 years of history, according to Artvark.

South Africa, parliament, fire, firefighters
Officials said roof in the main chamber of South Africa's National Assembly building collapsed in a fire that started Sunday. Above, firefighters spray water on flames erupting from a building at South Africa's Parliament in Cape Town January 2. Jerome Delay/AP Photo

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.

De Lille 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.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

South Africa, parliament, fire
A man was arrested Sunday in connection to a fire that tore through South Africa's parliament. Above, fire crews at the Houses of Parliament, fight a fire in Cape Town on January 2. Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP Photo