x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Companies ignoring fire safety, say Sharjah police

Bad wiring and storage of chemicals are blamed, as are poor standard electrical materials that 'can easily short-circuit' in heat.

SHARJAH // Police in Sharjah are blaming the emirate's outburst of fires on industrial companies that ignore safety rules. Col Wahed al Serkal, who is the emirate's director of civil defence, made his comments as firefighters were still cooling the embers of Tuesday's fire at the National Paints factory.

"There are always ongoing inspection campaigns, mostly in industrial areas, to ensure that all companies abide by safety rules," Col al Serkal said. "But as you know, Sharjah has the biggest industrial area zone in the country, so at times some companies are on fire before they are inspected." For the past month Sharjah's industrial areas have suffered a fire roughly every two days, with industrial neglect being helped along by the summer weather.

And while the cause of the National Paints fire in Industrial Area 4 remains unclear, Col al Serkal attributed many summer fires to bad wiring and poor storage of chemicals. "We ask companies, especially those dealing in chemical-related materials, to handle them with care and store them in cool places. They should not pile so many chemicals together," Col al Serkal said. "There are some electrical materials that are not to the standards of our hot weather, some of them are even very old and have not been changed or maintained on some buildings. Such materials would easily cause short-circuits when it's very hot and result into a big fire."

National Paints officials declined to comment yesterday because investigations were continuing. Hareb al Tunaiji, the head of the Sharjah Inspection Committee, said that according to rules introduced by the municipality last year, companies caught breaking fire regulations can be fined as much as Dh100,000 (US$27,200) and can be shut down. He said inspectors were moving through the industrial areas, issuing warnings and fines to fire safety violators. He did not say whether anyone had been fined the maximum amount this year.

"Our approach initially is that of warning," Mr al Tunaiji said. "We ask the violator to sign an agreement with us that he would stop the violations in 15 days." If violators persist, the municipality can cut off water and power supplies and issue more fines. Finally, the committee can rescind a company's trading licence and ban it from obtaining one. Col al Serkal said four Sharjah Civil Defence stations were working six-hour shifts at the National Paints site, which will remain cordoned off for two days while the men do their work.

"There are still inflammable materials in another warehouse that was saved by our firefighters," he said. "We have to consolidate this achievement by ensuring that the warehouse is safe from another fire." He said that after the cooling process, investigators and company owners would be allowed access. Around the smouldering remains of the warehouses, other neighbouring factories and workshops were operating and evacuated residents returned to their homes.

But Zuleikha Ejaz, who lives in Industrial Area 4, said her flat was off limits for more than a day because she has asthma and fears for her health. "Smoke was still around even at 9pm in my flat," she said. "I just told my husband, 'I can't stay here, this smoke is dangerous, this smoke is from chemicals - not ordinary smoke,'" she said. She stayed with relatives in Abu Shagara and returned home yesterday.

Emergency crews evacuated hundreds of people from homes and businesses after Tuesday's fire broke out at the site's four paint warehouses shortly after 9.30am. More than 250 firefighters battled for more than five hours to douse the flames. More than 20 residential and business buildings were cleared and police helped evacuate around 100 workers who were staying in National Paints accommodation. Despite the severity of the flames only two people suffered injury.

A fireman and a worker suffered minor burns and were taken to hospital for treatment before being discharged later in the day. The blaze destroyed a fire engine, and around 20 police patrols were dispatched to control traffic and direct motorists to alternative roads. Emirates and Maliha roads were closed in order to allow fire crews clear access to the scene, causing gridlock for hundreds of commuters who were forced to find alternate routes.