Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 23 September 2020

Ajman fire: shop owners tell of loss of life's work

Shop owners count cost of massive fire as their livelihoods are destroyed in a matter of hours

Dozens of shop owners gathered opposite the Iranian souq in Ajman on Thursday, watching firefighters hose down the charred remains of their life's work

Some took shelter beneath the shade of Ajman Speciality Hospital's car park as cooling operations were under way on the popular market where their stalls once stood.

For Fardees Ahmad, in his 50s, the loss of his two shops that sold household items meant an end to his 30-year business.

He and other shop workers had not been at the souq when the fire broke out because authorities closed it in March to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

“I have been here for over 30 years and, after a five-month closure, everything is gone. I don’t have money to pay my home rent or to pay wages for my employees.

“I was stunned and I don’t know what to do, I am left with nothing,” said Mr Ahmad, from Iran.

Shop owners who had been struggling to stay financially afloat amid the market closure said they had no idea how they would support their families now.

We lost everything in this fire. The shop we had for the past 11 years and that was providing for 20 members of my family is now gone

Mohammed Arif Islam

Mohammed Arif Islam, 25, had been looking after a clothes shop on behalf of his father, who had travelled to their home country of Bangladesh when flight restrictions came into force.

“We lost everything in this fire. The shop we had for the past 11 years and that was providing for 20 members of my family is now gone,” he said.

“This business provided for my mother, my brothers and sisters with the youngest being 5 and 6 years old, and for myself. I don’t know what we will do."

He said most shop owners do not have insurance and are waiting for guidance from authorities on what to do next.

Hundreds of thousands of dirhams worth of products were lost in the fire that broke out at 6.30pm on Wednesday.

Officials said flammable goods stored in the souq caused the fire to spread quickly, sending plumes of thick black smoke into the air and prompting the evacuation of the neighbouring hospital.

Almost 100 firefighters, including crews from Dubai, Sharjah and Umm Al Quwain helped extinguish the blaze by 9pm.

Nobody was hurt but damage to the popular souq, in Ajman's new industrial area, was extensive. Brig Abdulaziz Al Shamsi, director-general of the emirate's civil defence, said 125 shops were destroyed after parts of the market collapsed. Investigations into the cause of the fire are under way.

On Thursday, some shop owners said they worried about paying off debts to suppliers, from whom they had bought products but were unable to sell them once the market closed in March.

Some shop owners bought from suppliers but had not yet been paid off due to the closure of the souq.

Mohammed Hussain, 37, worked at a carpet shop for the past 11 years and was at the souq when the fire began.

“I come here all the time, just like every other worker does, to see what will happen with us. Last night, while sitting next to a cafeteria opposite the market, I saw the fire.

“I am devastated. We are more than 600 workers in this market who have now lost our jobs after around five months of a shutdown because of the coronavirus,” said Mr Hussain, from Bangladesh.

A few said they believed the fire to have begun after sparks from a welder ignited a stall in the back of the market.

One shopkeeper said he ran over to try help but the fire spread quickly.

Another, who preferred not to be named, appealed for help, saying his shop was not insured.

“I went to an insurance company myself to insure my shop. They refused because there were no walls separating the shops,” he said.

“We are about 140 shop owners in this market who have collectively lost ... our life's work in just two hours. Please help us.”

Updated: August 6, 2020 04:38 PM

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