ABU DHABI // A fire that killed four men in a makeshift Musaffah labour camp yesterday may have been caused by an electrical fault.
Firefighters were called at 5.53am and told a warehouse was on fire. But when they arrived, they found the two-storey building had been converted into labour accommodation and that some workers were trapped inside.
Three Nepalese men and a Bangladeshi man, who were not immediately identified, died of smoke inhalation.
A fifth man, from Pakistan, was in serious condition in an Abu Dhabi hospital.
Col Mohammed Abdullah Al Nuaimi, the director general of Abu Dhabi Civil Defence, warned against converting warehouses into labour camps because of the risk of poor electrical wiring.
One worker who lives at the camp said: "There are so many problems." Another labourer said the four men who died had been asleep in the same room when the fire broke out. "We saw the police take the bodies out," another labourer said. Most of the 400 men who lived there had left for work at 4am, he said.
Their sleeping patterns were different, he said, because the camp - named Al Madeena after the adjacent restaurant - is shared by labourers from different companies.
There are 40 rooms with 10 men in each, a labourer said.
"When the fire started … there were 50 people [in the building]," he said. "Everyone ran out fast."
None of the men recalled an alarm sounding during the fire.
"There is no safety. There is only one door," the worker added, motioning at the main entrance.
The men who died in the accident had just returned from a trip to their home countries to see their families.
By last evening the building was largely empty. Soot-blackened corridors, made muddy by the spray from fire hoses, were abandoned.
Most of the men living in the building were told to move their belongings outside yesterday afternoon, although about 80 remain there because they had nowhere else to go.
"There is no electricity and no water, and our company is saying the landlord is away for the summer," another worker said.
The rest of the labourers, he said, were being housed elsewhere.
The men left behind had no way of knowing whether they would be moved. In the meantime, they are living in the undamaged section of a building where their four colleagues had died.
"We have no choice, we have to wait here," said a labourer.
* With additional reporting by Essam Al Ghalib