x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Renewed urgency on fire prevention

Residential building fires have become such a common occurrence that it is clear that safety procedures and building codes are not being followed to the letter of the law.

A pall of smoke hung over Dubai yesterday, caused by a fire that consumed a dhow at the Creek. It was another timely reminder that we are entering a dangerous season, and only a day after a major residential fire in Sharjah destroyed more than 100 flats.

No one was killed in the Sharjah fire, fortunately, and it could be considered a near miss given the hectic evacuation scene that residents have described. But another residential blaze, so early in the impending summer fire season at a lower-income apartment block, should be a warning as well.

Residential building fires have become such a common occurrence that it is clear that fire-safety procedures and building codes are not being followed to the letter of the law. This weekend's fire is only the latest in a long line of blazes. In January, 125 families were evacuated after a fire destroyed the Al Baker Tower complex in Sharjah's Al Taawon neighbourhood - authorities blamed it on an unattended barbecue. In July, a blaze gutted 10 floors of a residential tower under construction near Al Safeer Mall - the suspect then was faulty electrical wiring. And a year before that, six people were injured when 10 floors of a 14-floor high rise were razed in Sharjah's Butaina district. The worst fire in recent years, in Deira in 2008, killed 11 people.

It is no coincidence that most of these fires happened during the summer when electrical circuits are overloaded by air conditioning. But that does not mean that they should be considered inevitable. These fires are entirely preventable given adequate enforcement of existing building codes, and if residents took more responsibility for fire safety in their own homes.

The Sharjah fire at the weekend appears to be a textbook example, with residents and authorities speculating that the quick-spreading fire was in part caused by flammable building materials. One resident told The National that Sharjah authorities "need to get tough with violators of fire safety requirements", but also conceded that he lived in a flat with an expired fire extinguisher.

Neither the fire in Sharjah nor, apparently, the dhow blaze claimed any casualties, but the warning is crystal clear. Authorities need to step up inspections, and residents take responsibility for their surroundings.