SHARJAH // More than 100 families were homeless last night after a fire gutted their apartment building.
The blaze broke out on the first floor of the 40-storey Al Tayer tower in the Al Nahda area at about 2am yesterday morning and destroyed all the flats at the front of the building - 102 of the block's 408 flats.
It also razed 45 cars in the building's parking levels.
Firefighters from Sharjah, Abu Dhabi and Dubai managed to control the fire by 5am and were expected to stay to cool the building down until about 7pm.
There were no casualties, according to Brig Abdullah Saeed Al Suwaidi, the director general of Sharjah Civil Defence.
Phillip James, a resident of the 27th floor, was among those who fled in the middle of the night.
"Coming down in the staircase was like a migration," he said. "Families were coming down and fire alarms were ringing. My one-year-old daughter, who already had some fever, had trouble coping."
Many of those who escaped the blaze set up camp for the night at nearby Nahda park, where the Sharjah Charity and Red Crescent set up three tents as shelter.
Abdullah bin Khadim, the director of Sharjah Charity, said the group was providing water, food, clothes and medicine for fire victims, and putting up some families in hotels. Hotel rooms were provided only for those whose flats were destroyed, not those in the rest of the building who were still unable to return to their homes.
Abbad Patel, who lives in a nearby block, opened the door of his small flat to more than 10 families.
"We are sitting here as men and have left the flat to our wives and children," he said, when found sitting in Al Nahda park with six other men.
Vicent, a Nigerian resident on the 29th floor, complained that his flat had an expired fire extinguisher that was not working.
"Sharjah has to do something about fire safety," he said.
"The authorities here are very good but they need to get tough with violators of fire safety requirements, as tough as they got with the motorists driving loud cars."
He suggested flammable paint on the exterior of the building may have helped the fire spread.
Brig Abdullah Al Dukhan, the deputy director of Sharjah Police, agreed that was possible.
"Authorities will look into this and see if some materials should be abolished to be used as paint," he said. "A committee comprising of police, municipality and civil defence have already been set up to help investigate."
Some people complained that firefighters had been slow to act.
Rashimi Khan, an Indian resident of the building, said the fire crews watched the blaze spreading to other floors for 30 minutes while they waited for equipment to arrive.
"When they arrived, the fire was still on the first floor," he said. "Instead of jumping into action they waited for the crane to arrive. Meanwhile, the fire was spreading. By the time they started stopping it, the fire had spread to 13th floor."