Following several deadly blazes in recent months, officials have pointed out a number of safety issues facing both firemen and building occupants. Firemen often had to push through traffic-choked streets and car parks before they even began to tackle a blaze, a civil defence official said recently. Their lorries were huge, carrying 8,000 to 10,000 gallons of water, said Ali Nasser, of Abu Dhabi Civil Defence, which made them difficult to manoeuvre.
Firemen also often complain that motorists either do not move out of the way of emergency vehicles, or are slow to do so. Witnesses said it took 15 to 30 minutes for firemen to arrive at yesterday's Tourist Club blaze. Inside the buildings, overcrowding and blocked fire exits and stairways were clear breaches of international safety standards, officials said. Brig Faris Khalifa, the director general of establishments protection at the Ministry of Interior, said very few buildings in Abu Dhabi were up to safety standards, and many faced additional problems by having flammable holiday decorations and faulty electrical systems.
There were 240 accidental fires in Abu Dhabi in the first seven months of the year. Many were the result of power cables being overloaded or electrical work being carried out by unprofessional or unqualified people. In May, almost 60 homes were badly damaged in three fires in Abu Dhabi. One blaze took seven hours to put out. According to the Ministry of Interior overloaded air conditioning systems and cables, and faulty electrical systems are increasingly to blame for fires in the capital.
In April, a fire at the Mina Zayed fruit and vegetable market burned for hours through the night, destroying a dozen shops. In March, a fire destroyed a plastics factory in Musaffah, engulfing the building in 20-metre high flames. Emad al Hashemi, the head of the fire safety section at Abu Dhabi Civil Defence, said ensuring total safety in all new buildings in the capital was impossible. There were too few inspectors for too many construction projects, he said. It meant that many building sites should use or store hazardous materials that should not be there.
The fire on Al Reem island in October, in which workers had to be rescued from a tower block that was under construction, might have been caused by such substances, said Lt Col Mohammed al Naimi, of the Emergency and Public Safety Department. "The substances being there caused a lot of smoke to leak from inside the building," he said. It is unclear whether any dangerous substances were present in the Tourist Club fire. However, the building had no working sprinkler system and officials said wooden partitions inside flats might have contributed to the severity of the blaze.