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The arched entrance to Atlantis is damaged after a fire spread through the lobby.
STEVE CRISP
The arched entrance to Atlantis is damaged after a fire spread through the lobby.

Atlantis opening on track despite blaze

Palm Jumeirah residents raise concerns that without a fire station, emergency services cannot reach some areas in time.

DUBAI // A fire that spread through the lobby of the almost-completed Atlantis hotel on Palm Jumeirah yesterday will not delay its grand opening at the end of the month, a hotel spokesman said last night. Smoke billowed from the central dome of the US$1.5 billion (Dh5.5bn) hotel at the top of the Palm development after the fire broke out at around 7am. An initial police investigation concluded that welders might have accidentally sparked the blaze. "We are investigating the matter and will know more later, but it was only a small fire," said Brig Abdul Jalil Mahdi, the deputy director of Dubai Police's Criminal Investigation Department for Preventive Security. However, Palm residents and other witnesses said so much smoke billowed from the hotel that it looked as if the entire building was in flames. The dome structure in the central lobby area appeared to have been damaged, they added. Kerzner International, which will manage the five-star, 1,539-room hotel, said the site was evacuated and no one was injured. "All safety and fire systems operated in accordance with standard operating procedures and emergency services worked quickly to extinguish the fire. Atlantis will open on time on Sept 24," said a spokesman. The hotel will be the centrepiece of the Jumeirah Palm development and reports last month said the Australian pop star Kylie Minogue would perform at the official opening. Residents of the Palm said they were woken by the sirens of police and emergency vehicles rushing to the hotel. "We could see clouds of smoke coming from the area near the hotel. It really looked like the entire hotel was on fire," said one resident. The Dubai Police and the security services at the Palm immediately cordoned off the road leading to the hotel. Staff on their way to work at the hotel were told to turn back and go home. "We heard on the radio that there was a fire in the hotel. We soon got a call from the management to go back home. There were not many staff members there since the hotel has not started operation yet," said a member of the hotel staff, adding that the fire started in a place where construction work was going on. Motorists on the main road leading to Palm Jumeirah and the inside roads parked their cars and watched as thick clouds of smoke billowed from the hotel. "We could see that the dome structure in the central lobby area had been damaged by the fire," said a witness. Residents of the Palm, meanwhile, questioned whether authorities would be prepared to fight another major fire on the man-made island, which is already home to thousands of people but does not have its own fire station. Civil Defence firemen who responded to yesterday's blaze had to drive from several locations on the mainland. Residents have voiced fears that the Palm's furthest reaches, where many hotels and apartments will be located, may be difficult for emergency services to get to quickly, particularly when Dubai's traffic congestion is taken into account. Vladimir, 57, an engineer who has lived on the Palm for 10 months, expressed concern about how quickly firemen could put out a fire in the multi-storey apartments lining the main thoroughfare. "I think the residents can escape from some buildings, but maybe not the taller ones," he said. Nakheel, the Dubai Government-owned developer of the 560-hectare, multibillion-dirham island, has already handed over nearly 1,500 villas and 2,500 apartments to owners, and an estimated 2,000 families have moved in since 2006. The number of visitors is also expected to rise significantly after the summer as hotels such as Atlantis open. Aaron Richardson, a spokesman for Nakheel, said last month that the company had installed a satisfactory fire-prevention infrastructure on the island, which will have a capacity for 100,000 residents and visitors. "The Palm Jumeirah Control Centre has extensive CCTV coverage and alarm links for the early detection of problems. Infrastructure includes a regulation fire hydrant system as with other residential areas in Dubai," said Mr Richardson. Sprinklers, "fire appliances" and a fire utility boat were among other safeguards already in place, he added. Mr Richardson said Civil Defence planned to introduce a firefighting facility on the Palm, but it was unclear when. Dubai Civil Defence said in an email it was still in the "study and development phase" for preparing emergency responses on island developments, including the Palm Jumeirah. However, it said it was capable of responding to all crises in Dubai, including fires on Palm Jumeirah, "within a standardised time not exceeding eight minutes". Other offshore developments even larger than the Palm Jumeirah are under construction and will open in the coming years. The Palm Deira will be the largest man-made island in the world, accommodating one million people, while the Palm Jebel Ali will house another 250,000 people. @email:hnaylor@thenational.ae @email:garis@thenational.ae

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