x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

Families flee blazing tower block

Charities rally with aid when hundreds are left homeless after fire destroys a 25-storey building in Sharjah.

It took emergency crews about 10 hours to bring the fire under control at the 25-storey Al Baker Tower 4, opposite Al Taawun Mall in Sharjah.
It took emergency crews about 10 hours to bring the fire under control at the 25-storey Al Baker Tower 4, opposite Al Taawun Mall in Sharjah.

SHARJAH // More than 120 families had to flee their homes early yesterday morning after a blaze destroyed a residential tower.

The fire at the 25-storey Al Baker Tower 4, opposite Al Taawun Mall, started at 2am.

It took emergency crews from three emirates about 10 hours to bring it under control.

Residents were woken by firefighters, who entered the burning building to alert the 125 families living in the tower.

Jihad Skouti, who lived on the 21st floor, said: "They were shouting, 'Fire, fire, it is serious, every one move out now. Firefighters are on the staircase - they can help you'.

"When I reached about the seventh floor with my family, the smell and smoke was so thick, but we managed to go through it."

Ifeanyi Dove, who lived at apartment 805, was woken at about 2.30am by the noise of crews tackling the blaze.

He immediately woke his wife and two children and went down the stairs to the street.

"I have lost everything I have in the UAE, including Dh75,000 in cash that a business partner sent me to buy him goods," he said.

No one was hurt and the cause remained unknown last night, but it was believed the fire started on the first floor and quickly spread through the rest of the building.

Tariq Ghazi, who lived on the third floor, was awake when the fire broke out.

"It started on the right side of the building's first floor came all the way up," he said. "It then started on the left side and gutted all that as well."

Distraught families stood on the street most of the night watching their homes go up in flames.

Although exhausted, many wanted to stay at the scene, despite offers of temporary accommodation from local charities.

Maj Gen Humaid Mohammed Al Hudaidi, director general of Sharjah Police, said: "No death or injury has been reported so far.

"We are coordinating all efforts to ensure that all families get immediate help, like accommodation and food."

Sharjah Charity and the Red Crescent were leading the relief operation, said Abdullah bin Khadim, director general of Sharjah Charity.

"We will be accommodating up to 50 families in hotels and another 50 will be accommodated by Sharjah Club at its premises, The remaining 25 will be helped by other charities," he said.

Mr Khadim said the charities would also give donations of clothes and cash.

Fourteen cars parked close to the building were also destroyed, said Col Sultan Abdullah Al Khayal, director of Sharjah Police's public relations and moral guidance department.

He added that a team of experts was working to determine the cause of the fire.

"It must have been caused by some human error but until now we can not tell much," he said. "Experts from police forensics and CID are on the scene and will start the work of identifying exactly where the fire started and what caused it once the place is declared safe by the firefighters."

Brig Abdullah Saeed Al Suwaidi, director general of Sharjah Civil Defence, praised the bravery of the fire crews.

"We are grateful to firefighters who reached out to every room to ensure that everyone was safely evacuated," he said

Shocked residents expressed their happiness to have survived the fire but sorrow for the loss of their properties and belongings.

A man from apartment 1605 said his wife woke him up to say the building was burning.

"The only thing that saved us was that the staircase was safe," he said. "I am still struck by the loss of all my documents, from passports to driving licenses and school certificates. I don't know how I am going to recover all of them."

Not all of the building's residents were at home when the fire started. Ayman Ballouti, an aircraft engineer with Emirates Airline, was arriving at Dubai airport at about 4am when a friend called.

"He said, 'Ayman where are you? All your building is on fire and I can't see you, the phone was off.' I was very worried," said Mr Ballouti.

The Al Baker Tower 4 building is believed to be owned by a Qatari tycoon who owns similar properties in the area, named Al Baker 1 to 4. A two-bedroom apartment leases for more than Dh40,000.

ykakande@thenational.ae