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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 June 2018

Dubai Torch tower fire: internal e-mail shows repairs from first blaze had just been approved

An internal memo sent from Kingfield Owner Association Management Services in June announced that Dubai Civil Defence had agreed to plans for exterior repairs from the first fire in 2015.

The second blaze that raced up the southwest corner of The Torch tower in Dubai Marina Friday erupted just weeks after authorities finally approved repairs to damages from the first fire that broke out in 2015.

An internal memo sent to residents of The Torch announced that the Dubai Civil Defence had signed off on plans for the exterior repairs from the first fire, which damaged apartments from the 51st to the 79th floor in February of 2015.

Since that first fire more than two years ago, parts of the building have been covered in construction carp, while the pool below had been closed.

“After a very intense period going back and forth with Dubai Civil Defence I am very pleased to announce that we have now received written confirmation from DCD for the approval to go ahead with the exterior repairs on the building and replace the fire damaged panels as per the fire safety specialists report,” according to the message sent to residents June 16.

“This signed and stamped document has already been sent to the insurance company for processing and also been given to the contractors so they can make their approval processes for procurement of the exterior cladding panels with the aluminium manufacturer. Once we get confirmation on the updated completion timeline we will inform all owners and residents accordingly.”

Residents were also told by management that the repairs were expected to take six to seven months to complete.

On Saturday, the Torch Tower building manager, Kingfield Owner Association Management Services, told The National that it was providing accommodation solutions for residents.

“We continue to co-ordinate operations from Dubai Marina and are working alongside the authorities on site in their efforts to restore services and access to The Torch. Residents have been provided with emergency hotel accommodation until further notice from DCD,” said Anel-Carline Beukes, head of compliance and communication at Kingfield.

Dubai Civil Defence said no one was injured in the early morning weekend fire. As of Saturday evening, the cause was still under investigation by Dubai Police.

“We started investigations, until now there is no indication that there was criminal intent behind it,” said Maj Gen Khalil Ibrahim Al Mansouri, assistant commander-in-chief of the Dubai Police for criminal investigation department.

Col Majid Al Suwaidi, deputy chief of Al Barsha police station, said experts were still on site investigating the cause.

He said Maj Gen Abdullah Khalifa Al Marri, Commander-in-Chief of Dubai Police, visited the building on Saturday and instructed forensic experts to work as quickly as possible to determine the cause of the fire.

There is no suspicion of arson so far but Col Al Suwaidi said he could not confirm either way until the experts’ report was released.

He said the immediate response from Civil Defence was the main contribution in extinguishing the fire quickly “and the teams are very experienced with this kind of fire.”

When asked about the building’s cladding he said the type was used on the exterior of buildings worldwide, and some are more flammable than others.

All fire safety systems were in place within the Tower, the head of operations at Dubai Civil Defence said.

“The building from inside, had all the required systems installed. As a firefighting system it was working fully,” said Lt Col Feras Belhasa.

He said residents should have no reason to fear returning to the building.

“With the efficient (firefighting) system, and the fact that there were no human losses or injuries, and the quick response time, people should not worry.”

Civil Defence teams were also tasked with protecting parked cars being damaged by falling debris.

He said they received reports of 10 damaged cars despite efforts to move the vehicle.

Flaming debris falls in an adjacent informal car park next to the building setting parked cars on fire. Antonie Robertson / The National
Flaming debris falls in an adjacent informal car park next to the building setting parked cars on fire. Antonie Robertson / The National

“We tried as much as we can through co-ordination with traffic teams to pull the cars, but the place was dangerous, with glass collapsing and gliding imposes danger if there are people working there.”

Officials allowed residents displaced by the second fire to re-enter units in The Torch up to the 70th floor Friday night and extended access to occupants up to the 80th floor today.

Residents were accompanied by security as they surveyed their units to collect valuable and urgent items.

There has been no official word on when they will be allowed back permanently.

John Taylor, an American businessman who survived both blazes at the tower, said he was among the lucky ones as his apartment on the 63rd floor was undamaged in both incidences.

“I just looked at it today and most of my stuff is OK, it’s just the damage on the outside of my balcony,” said Mr Taylor, who is COO of Gulf Positioning Services. “I’m one of the lucky ones, I think.”

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As he ascended one of the two elevators that were being manually operated Saturday, Mr Taylor said he saw heavy fire damage on some levels and none on others.

“It was interesting because we stopped on the 50th floor first and it wasn’t too bad, stopped at 51 and the interior was scorched in the hallways,” said Mr Taylor. “Fortunately, we went up to 63 — and my unit is right on the corner where it was burnt and my balcony is trashed — but my interior stuff, my things are OK. You can probably smell a little smoke and everything but there is no physical damage.”

Mr Taylor said he didn’t move out after the first fire because he never imagined the building would burst in flames for a second time within such a short span.

“My theory was lightening doesn’t strike twice, but that didn’t work out for me because lightening did strike twice,” said Mr Taylor, adding he planned on finding new accommodations this time.

Algerian Dalia Lebbihi moved into the Torch building about a year and a half ago with her elderly parents. She knew about its infamous history, but also never thought she would find herself waking up to sirens in the middle of the night with flames and ash raining outside her window as she did Friday. She and her parents were forced to flee on foot down 47 flights of stairs.

“I thought after the first fire happened, you know, that the mistake would never be repeated again, you know what I mean?” said Ms Lebbihi. “It is a nightmare. I am still in shock.”

Another resident was allowed inside to collect things on Saturday night, but was told he would not be allowed to move back in for another two or three days.

The man, who asked not to be named, said he collected essential items such as his passport and medicine, and had gone to stay with his son who lived in a tower nearby.

After the last fire, residents were allowed to move back in after a day, he said.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, and Sheikh Saif bin Zayed, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior, have since commended Dubai Civil Defence teams for their quick response.

The pair offered solutions for residents affected by the fire by booking many of the 475 people who were evacuated from the building into nearby hotels. Sheikh Mansour bin Mohammed was also on site during the fire to offer support and oversee operations.

Civil Defence were called at 12.45am and quickly dispatched crews from six stations: Al Marsa, Emirates Matryrs, Al Quoz, Al Barsha, Port Saeed and Al Rashidiya.

The teams started the cooling process at 2.58am.

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 damaged 38 out of the 676 apartments from the 24th floor up to the 84th. Sixty-four floors were externally damaged.

The roads surrounding the fire site in the marina area are back to normal, and all intersections and roads leading to the tower are now open.

Dubai Civil Defence, Dubai Police and Kingfield Owner Association Management Services — who manage the building — have yet to respond for further comment.