SHARJAH // A discarded cigarette caused the fire that gutted a high-rise in Sharjah and left 120 families homeless, investigators say.
A report from the Sharjah Police forensic laboratory found the January 25 blaze began after a cigarette was thrown from the fourth floor of Al Baker Tower 4 and landed on the balcony of apartment 104, setting clothes and papers alight.
The fire quickly spread to the rest of the 25-storey building. Of the 125 flats, 51 were gutted and 14 cars parked nearby were also destroyed.
The flat from which the cigarette was thrown was not given in the report, but police said the case was still under investigation and those suspected were being questioned.
Authorities admit a ban on smoking in residential buildings would not be enforceable, but have called on smokers to take more care to prevent fires and save lives.
"We are not talking of banning smoking in residential areas or even segregating buildings between smokers and non-smokers, but there have to be safety procedures to safeguard people's lives from careless fires," said Brig Mualla Humaid Al Mualla, director of operations at Sharjah Civil Defence.
Lt Col Abdullah Abdul Aziz Al Tunaiji, the director of the civil defence emergency department, said: "There is already an ongoing campaign in schools and factories, and we are urging smokers to learn how to dispose of butts without risking fires in their homes.
Former residents of Al Baker Tower said they were happy that safety lessons were being learnt.
"It is something that I don't wish to happen to anyone else," said Ifeanyi Dove. "It was a disaster that a cigarette butt could cause a fire of that magnitude."
Families whose homes were lost in the Al Baker fire each received Dh50,000 in compensation after a decree by the Ruler of Sharjah, Dr Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed.