x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

Blaze engulfs Musaffah Port

Civil defence, fire fighters and helicopters tackled a ferocious blaze that erupted at Musaffah port.

A fire at a chemical plant in Musaffah city near Abu Dhabi.
A fire at a chemical plant in Musaffah city near Abu Dhabi.

MUSAFFAH // Fire destroyed a plastics factory in Musaffah today. Firemen, police and ambulance crews were called to the Fiber Flex Factory around noon, arriving to find it engulfed by 20-metre flames. A toxic plume of smoke from the fire, which started in an acetone storage yard, was visible from across the city. No one was injured. According to Mohammed al Mazroui, one of the owners of the factory, the blaze began in the rear of the site and quickly spread, gutting a warehouse where drums of acetone and plastic products were stored. "There were 80 people working in the back when the fire erupted," said Mr al Mazroui. "Everyone promptly evacuated the warehouse so there were no injuries." Mr al Mazroui estimated the damage to his business, which was not insured, at about Dh13 million (US$3.5 million). "No insurance company would insure a chemicals factory," he said. "The financial loss is great but I am grateful that no one was injured." He believed the likely cause of the fire was two volatile chemicals mixing together. Firemen spent three hours battling the blaze with water and foam as helicopters hovered overhead. A number of explosions sent flashes of heat towards the hundreds of onlookers. A Fiber Flex Factory manager, who declined to provide his name, said the explosions occurred as each drum of acetone caught fire. He criticised the Civil Defence firemen for using water to douse a chemical fire. "The water does not help the situation at all. When you pour water on a chemical fire, the fire becomes more intense. That is why the smoke is so thick," he said. "They should use foam or just let the fire burn itself out." The manager, who was not at the factory when the fire erupted, said he received a telephone call from an employee, who said he could hear explosions towards the back of the warehouse. "I received a call just before noon from one of the warehouse supervisors saying that 'bombs' were going off," he said. "I told him to get out and see what was going on and that was when he realised that a fire had erupted. He ordered everyone out of the warehouse and away from the site." Those downwind of the fire complained of a noxious smell that caused their eyes to water and throats to burn, but no one required medical attention. Dr Alaa Salem, professor of analytical chemistry at the UAE University in Al Ain, said that when acetone burns "there is a mixture of carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide. Some carbon soot and volatile hydrocarbons may be dispersed depending on the degree of combustion. "People near the fire may suffer breathing difficulties, but those far away will not be harmed. Normally these gases are dispersed by the wind and their impact on the area is diminished by time." S Padmanathan, the supervisor of a team of labourers working next door to the factory, said that when he heard an explosion around noon he thought it was "a loud gun" or a crane accident "where something was falling from the crane on the roof of the factory". "But then I looked up and there was a small fire in the factory next door," he said. "Initially we continued work and thought it would be taken under control but then we saw a lot of workers running out." Once the fire spread and there were more loud explosions, Mr Padmanathan called his supervisor, who told him to evacuate the site immediately. "I did a head count when we were leaving, because by the time we decided to leave, there were very, very big clouds of smoke going up in the air and the wind was blowing it towards our side and we could not see each other properly," he said. Mohammed Ghulam, who works with Mr Padmanathan, said the workers immediately used whatever they could find to cover their mouths and eyes from the smoke. "It smelled really bad," he said. "And my eyes and throat were burning and we all got worried because we know there are lots of chemicals that are stored next door." More than three hours after it started, the fire had died down but the thick smoke continued to blow in the changing winds. "It is a bit worrying to see so much smoke and not enough fire," Mr Ghulam said. "I think this is very harmful for us but we have to wait for our transportation to arrive before we can leave the scene." Ram Prasad, a labourer from a nearby factory said: "I have some friends who work in this factory. I have not been able to get in touch with them but people around here are saying that everyone got out fine. "People who got here before me are trying to reassure me that my friends are fine but I will wait till the whole thing is over to see if they find anyone in there. None of my friends have called yet." ealghalib@thenational.ae sbhattacharya@thenational.ae * If you have a story, call The National's newsdesk on +971 (2) 4145328, and send your breaking images and videos to +971 (0)50 106 3335 or email: sendyournews@thenational.ae