x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 18 August 2017

Dubai Torch tower blaze: residents thought it was a false alarm

Dubai Civil Defence reports no casualties and that all pets had been rescued and reunited with their owners after fire damages 38 apartments over 64 floors

Residents of the Torch Tower in Dubai Marina have told of their escape from a massive fire at one of the world's tallest residential buildings.

Annie Bricker, 34, from Austin, Texas said the fire had started about 1 am when she was in bed. “I got out into the stairwell and it was pretty calm,” she said.

“People were coming out of their flats and asking if it was a false alarm. I said to them don’t take the risk, get out now and we can find out once we’re outside.

“We all started walking to the stairwell. We were a long way up, but using the lift was out of the question as I didn’t know if it would stop half way down and then we would be trapped.”

The fire is the second at the Torch Tower in Dubai Marina, with repairs made to external cladding following a blaze in February 2015.

Dubai Civil Defence reported that 475 people had been successfully evacuated with no casualties and that all pets had been rescued and reunited with their owners.  

An investigation is now under way into the cause of the fire, which started on the 26th floor of the 86 floor building.

Drone footage released by Dubai Media Office after the blaze was put out showed the seat of the fire on the south west corner of the tower, which spread rapidly. Authorities said the fire had damaged 38 apartments over 64 floors, up to the 85th.

Crews from six Civil Defence stations were involved in fighting the blaze.

 

Major General Abdullah Khalifa Al Marri, Commander-in-Chief of Dubai Police, and Major General Rashid Thani Al Matroushi, Director-General of Civil Defence in Dubai, were present at the scene according to WAM, the UAE official news agency.

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Read more

In pictures: Torch tower blaze

2015: Fire rips through Dubai’s Marina Torch

2015: The Torch blaze reignites concerns over cladding used for Dubai towers

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Burning debris also fell into the street, showering parked vehicles and causing smaller fires. The main fire was reported to have been extinguished just before 3 am.

Ms Bricker said she was helped by maps on each floor showing the fire procedure, in English and Arabic and directing residents to the nearest exits.

“When you live in Dubai, and you are in a high rise you know fires can happen so you have to have a plan,” added Ms Bricker, who is a communication manager at the Dubai World Trade Centre.

“The police were very helpful. They said we may be able to get back into the building at 7.30pm tonight, but that looks doubtful.

“I have a friend who is out of town who said I can stay at his place. I was one of the first ones to get out, I think more people were either asleep or were not at home.

“The biggest fear was not the fire, but people getting trampled in the stairwell, but everyone was very calm. People seemed to be logical in what they were doing.”

Witness Mike Ulanski describes his escape from the blaze.


Police at the scene were checking on residents, and directing them to three nearby hotels, including the Intercontinental. Ms Bricker said she was offered a room at a discounted rate by the One to One hotel, including a free breakfast and a late checkout.

Residents also received an emergency call from Torch Tower reception an hour after they had left to ensure they were safe. An emergency SMS text message was also sent out to advise them on what was happening.

Another resident, who asked not to be named, said he escaped by running down the stairs. "There was an alarm going I came out of the apartment with my wallet and mobile phone, that was it."

 

 

The man, who lives on the seventh floor , added: "I saw there was a sparking from the roof coming down the side of the building. It must have been on Level 45 or 50, and it was going up. 

"Pieces were falling down on the lower levels and landing on a balcony and that was starting a new fire going up, that's why it got so big."

 

 

People were exiting the building in a "quite orderly" way, he said.

Emergency crews did a "great job" trying to put out the smaller fires as debris fell, he added. Crews were inside the buildings on certain levels, he said,  concentrating  on putting out a smoking debris on the podium level to prevent the fire spreading.

"We were lucky there was not a bigger fire, or nobody lost their lives." 

 

Read more: New fire rules that enforce strict controls on builders came into force in January

 

Kingfield Owner Association Management Services, the building management company for the Torch  issued short statement saying that: "The safety of all residents and staff is of the utmost importance, and our efforts are currently focused on arranging the necessary emergency accommodation for residents." The company said a fuller statement would be issued at a later stage.

New tougher fire regulations for cladding on buildings came into force in the UAE in January following a series of  high rise blazes, including the Address Hotel in Downtown Dubai on New Year's Eve 2015, but it is unclear if the repairs to the Torch following the earlier fire would have come under them.

 

 

The 2015 fire was brought under control quickly, with no fatalities and seven people treated for smoke inhalation.

But the dramatic fire prompted conversations over long-standing concerns about the sort of cladding used in Dubai towers.

The Torch Tower fire comes less than two months after the devastating fire - thought to be exacerbated by the type of cladding used to insulate the building - at Grenfell Tower in the UK in which more than 80 people lost their lives. 

The tower became the tallest residential building in the world in 2011 but was surpassed in 2012 by the nearby 23 Marina and Princess Tower directly across the street. The Torch is 1,105 ft tall, with 79 floors above ground.