Blaze sweeps through Dubai sky­scraper for sec­ond time

Kuwait Times - - NEWS -

DUBAI: Po­lice in Dubai re­opened the streets around one of the world’s tallest res­i­den­tial sky­scrapers af­ter fire­fight­ers put out a blaze that erupted early Fri­day in the high-rise, forc­ing res­i­dents to evac­u­ate in the mid­dle of the night and send­ing chunks of de­bris plum­met­ing be­low. No ma­jor in­juries had been re­ported in the tower, lo­cated in an up­scale water­front dis­trict heav­ily pop­u­lated by ex­pa­tri­ates from around the world. A few peo­ple were treated for smoke in­hala­tion, ac­cord­ing to Dubai’s Gulf News web­site.

Sev­eral res­i­dents said the fire broke out just af­ter 1 am at the 87-storey Torch Tower - a more than 335-m res­i­den­tial build­ing in Dubai’s Ma­rina dis­trict. The tower has 676 apart­ments - 38 of which were burnt and de­stroyed by the fire, ac­cord­ing to the of­fi­cial Dubai me­dia of­fice. Sixty-four floors of the fa­cade of the build­ing were also burnt, they said. The same build­ing had also caught fire just two-and-ahalf years ear­lier.

The cause of the fire on was not im­me­di­ately known but in the past, such in­fer­nos in Dubai have been linked to highly flammable build­ing cladding - as was the dev­as­tat­ing June tower fire in Lon­don that killed at least 80 peo­ple. “You never think it’s go­ing to hap­pen to you,” said Alireza Ale­tomeh, a res­i­dent of the tower. “I had cash in there, fur­ni­ture, paint­ings . ... Many things that are very valu­able to me.”

Ale­tomeh, a sales man­ager, said he moved to the Torch Tower just three months ago, snag­ging an apart­ment on the 54th floor of the lux­ury tower. He said he was com­ing home af­ter mid­night when build­ing se­cu­rity guards told him to re­main in the street be­cause a fire had erupted. He said his room­mate grabbed their pass­ports and that it took him more than two hours to come down the stair­way be­cause of the rush of peo­ple try­ing to get out at the same time. At least one woman passed out in the stair­way, Ale­tomeh said.

Nearly the en­tire length of the build­ing on one side be­came en­gulfed in flames at one point dur­ing the blaze as res­i­dents looked on from be­low, many in tears. The fire­fight­ers bat­tled the blaze for more than two hours. Of­fi­cials say 84 floors of the build­ing are res­i­den­tial and three are for ser­vices. Dubai’s Civil De­fense an­nounced at about 3:30 a.m. that fire­fight­ers had brought the blaze un­der con­trol and said cool­ing op­er­a­tions were un­der­way. Au­thor­i­ties shared video of the build­ing from the out­side later on Fri­day, show­ing the en­tire length of the tower charred on one side.

By mid­day Fri­day, a few po­lice cars could be seen in the area, but the main streets around it were open to traf­fic and had been wiped clean of de­bris, some of which had fallen on cars parked be­low. The sky­scraper, how­ever, re­mained closed to res­i­dents. Of­fi­cials said they were pro­vid­ing shel­ter at three nearby ho­tels for res­i­dents. By night­fall, res­i­dents still had not been told when they would be al­lowed to re­turn to check on their apart­ments.

The Torch Tower pre­vi­ously caught fire in Feb 2015; there were also no ca­su­al­ties re­ported in that blaze. In both in­ci­dents, fire alarms alerted res­i­dents and build­ing staff knocked on doors to en­sure evac­u­a­tion. King­field Owner As­so­ci­a­tion Man­age­ment Ser­vices, which man­ages the tower, did not pro­vide any de­tails about the cause of the blaze in a brief re­sponse to ques­tions. “The safety of all res­i­dents and staff is of the ut­most im­por­tance, and our ef­forts are cur­rently fo­cused on ar­rang­ing the nec­es­sary emer­gency ac­com­mo­da­tion for res­i­dents,” spokes­woman AnelCar­line Beukes said with­out elab­o­rat­ing.

No sprin­klers

The tower was built by de­vel­oper Se­lect Group and opened in 2011. Se­lect did not re­spond to re­quests for com­ment. Ale­tomeh, who is now stay­ing with friends, said tow­ers like the Torch should have sprin­klers. He won­dered why Civil De­fense crews did not de­ploy he­li­copters to try and ex­tin­guish the fire quicker. “Putting out the fire was the most im­por­tant thing, which took them so long,” he said.

Si­mon Bach, a New Zealan­der who lives in a high-rise across the street, told AP he saw a few po­lice­men as well as Emi­ratis in tra­di­tional white robes help­ing peo­ple get out. About 10 to 12 fire trucks ar­rived quickly on the scene, he said. He said just as the fire­fight­ers had seemed to bring the blaze un­der con­trol, fall­ing de­bris ig­nited a part of the build­ing fur­ther down. “It seemed re­ally out of con­trol,” he said. “Peo­ple were stream­ing out of the car parks of the build­ing.”

Sev­eral sky­scrapers in the United Arab Emi­rates have caught fire in re­cent years, in­clud­ing a tow­er­ing in­ferno that en­gulfed a 63-story lux­ury ho­tel in Dubai on New Year’s Eve in 2016. In that blaze, as in oth­ers in Dubai in re­cent years, res­i­dents es­caped with­out ma­jor in­jury. And on Thurs­day evening, in the neigh­bor­ing emi­rate of Shar­jah, an un­der-con­struc­tion tower caught fire that raged for sev­eral hours as lo­cal me­dia and nearby res­i­dents posted dra­matic im­ages of the blaze.

Ear­lier this year, Dubai passed new fire safety rules re­quir­ing build­ings with quick-burn­ing side pan­el­ing to re­place it with more fire-re­sis­tant sid­ing. Au­thor­i­ties have pre­vi­ously ac­knowl­edged that at least 30,000 build­ings across the UAE have cladding or pan­el­ing that safety ex­perts have said ac­cel­er­ates the rapid spread of fires. While the new reg­u­la­tions are now in place for con­struc­tion in Dubai and other cities, it’s un­clear how au­thor­i­ties will force own­ers to re­place flammable sid­ing with bet­ter ma­te­rial. The tragic June in­ferno in Lon­don prompted Bri­tain to or­der more thor­ough test­ing on the cladding sys­tems of its tow­ers.

— AFP

DUBAI: Fire is seen at the 1,105-foot tall Torch tower sky­scraper on Fri­day.

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