x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Cigarette 'caused Sharjah highrise blaze'

A police forensics report says a number of cigarette butts were found on the balcony of flat 108 of the 40-storey Al Tayer Tower where the fire is believed to have started.

The balcony on which the fire is believed to have started was being used to store clothes and plastics.
The balcony on which the fire is believed to have started was being used to store clothes and plastics.

SHARJAH // The fire that gutted the 40-storey Al Tayer Tower in April and left hundreds of families homeless was caused by a discarded cigarette, police say.

A police forensics report says a number of cigarette butts were found on the balcony of flat 108, where the fire is believed to have started.

"Investigations are still ongoing to determine where this butt came from," said Brig Mualla Humaid Al Mualla, the director of Sharjah Civil Defence's operations department.

"We believe it came from the upper floors of the tower but we have not yet established which exact flat, or person, was responsible."

The report states the fire started at flat 108 and spread to number 109. It then spread to 102 of the block's 408 apartments, forcing all of the occupants to flee.

About 45 cars parked close by were also wrecked in the blaze on April 28, most of them belonging to tenants.

The balcony on which the fire was believed to have started was being used to store clothes and plastics, the report stated.

This is the third major fire found to have been started by discarded cigarettes. The blaze that destroyed Al Baker Tower 4 this year and the 14-storey Kuwait Tower two years ago were sparked by cigarettes.

About 125 families were displaced as a result of the Al Baker blaze, while 200 were left homeless after Kuwait Tower was gutted.

The cause of the fire was of little concern to the former residents of Al Tayer Tower, who are still struggling to piece together their lives after being left with next to nothing and no hope of compensation.

Hassan Emm, who lived in one of the gutted flats, said he was still living in a hotel after being unable to find new accommodation. He said he was quickly running up bills that were beyond his means to pay.

"No one is helping. We are desperate for help," Mr Emm said.

"I lost everything and still find trouble coping with the situation, to find a new flat and start furnishing it."

Another tenant, who identified himself as Hussein, was also still struggling, even though he found a new flat for his family this week.

"I moved into the flat with my family but it is still unfurnished. We just put our mattresses on the floor to sleep," Hussein said.

"We need compensation from either the owner of the tower or the insurance company as we lost everything. It is not fair to leave us to do everything from our meagre income."

Another tenant said statements made by the property agent representing the tower about compensation payments from insurance companies were misleading.

"I was personally there to escort the assessor from the relevant insurance company to inspect the devastation in my flat," he said.

"According to him, the building was indeed insured, but this only covers repairs to the building itself and not the tenants' belongings such as furniture or appliances. He questioned why we were not prudent enough to obtain fire insurance of our own."

Tenants who lost their belongings in the Al Baker 4 tower blaze were each awarded Dh50,000 compensation after a decree by the Ruler of Sharjah, Dr Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed.

But Abdullah bin Khadim, the director of Sharjah Charity, which helped to distribute the cash, said there was no similar compensation planned for the former Al Tayer residents.

"We have not got any order to compensate anyone this time," Mr bin Khadim said. "These fires are too frequent."

Mohammed Junaid, whose flat was not badly damaged by the fire, has returned but is worried another blaze could be sparked.

"I went to the owner asking him to return my cheques and let me relocate to a safe flat, but he asked me to pay 30 per cent of the cheques, which was too expensive," Mr Junaid said. "I now just want to live here for a few months so my contract expires and I can relocate."

ykakande@thenational.ae

 

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