DAMAGE estimated at close to R2million was caused by a fire which gutted a Mthatha timber factory on Tuesday night, leaving the jobs of around 100 workers in jeopardy.
Firefighters battled for more than seven hours at the Highbury Treated Timber plant to bring the blaze under control.
The factory was apparently set alight by a nearby veld fire around the lunch hour, police spokesperson Mzukisi Fatyela said.
A Dispatch team was on the scene as the fire blazed fiercely inside the plant and corrugated iron structures collapsed.
Firefighters from as far as Mbashe municipality laboured side-by-side with local municipal and fire fighters from the Mthatha airport to stop the flames spreading to nearby homes at Fort Gale, just outside the city.
A strong smell of chemicals hung over the area as managers and workers looked on helplessly.
As the wreckage was cooling down yesterday, one of the companys three directors, Zolani Ngcingwana, said damage was estimated at around R2 million.
He said the directors would soon meet to decide on the fate of the employees. Obviously we cannot keep people when we have nothing to do, and right now people are not at work.
He said he could not rule out the factory closing permanently.
The factory supplied timber to wholesalers and projects throughout the province.
We have informed those businesses and some of them have indicated that they are cancelling because they cannot wait.
Ngcingwana said the saw mill the main driver of the business was destroyed in the blaze.
Its going to take us a long time to rebuild, depending on when the insurance comes to the party. I suppose if they are quick enough we will be able to get back on our feet fast, he said.
Yesterday, employees were uncertain about their future. I am very scared and I do not know what will happen now, but it is possible that we are going to be laid off, said Phillip Bishop, a father of eight who has been with the factory for more than 10 years. It is really sad because I have children to look after.