x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Khalidiya fire prompts airlift rescue

Fire crews in Sharjah also stretched as flames engulf cooking-oil storage depot causing the closure of Port Khalid.

The top floors of a residential apartment building in the Khalidiya area of Abu Dhabi are engulfed in flames, while rescue crews evacuate the remaining residents by helicopter.
The top floors of a residential apartment building in the Khalidiya area of Abu Dhabi are engulfed in flames, while rescue crews evacuate the remaining residents by helicopter.

ABU DHABI / SHARJAH // Helicopters airlifted people to safety from the roof of a blazing apartment block yesterday for the second time in less than a week, reinforcing concerns about health and safety standards and building code violations.

The fire broke out in an apartment in the Khalidiya area of Abu Dhabi, gutting four of the apartments on the top two floors. Five people were reported to have been rescued from the rooftop by two helicopters. Others were said to have been plucked from an eighth-floor balcony by firemen using a tender's extendable ladder. Dozens of firemen spent hours trying to bring the flames under control. The fire, on the junction of Electra and 26th streets, began at around 4pm. Residents noticed smoke coming from an eighth-floor apartment.

"I didn't know where it came from. I just woke up and there was smoke everywhere," said Nori Rivero, 28, who lived in the apartment across the hallway. "Everyone was shouting. I was so scared." He escaped from a window on to a fire ladder. A large crowd stood on the street, watching the flames emerging from the windows and blackening the walls of the building. Debris fell from the roof. On the curbs below the fire, firemen sat slumped, sweating profusely, having bottles of water handed to them and water dumped over their heads to prevent heat exhaustion.

Twenty two people were treated for smoke inhalation but there were no deaths, according to a doctor from Al Rahba Hospital. Major Sultan al Housain, of the Abu Dhabi Police, said the entire building and the one next to it were evacuated. He said the cause of the fire was unknown. He confirmed that there were no makeshift apartments on the roof of the building. On Tuesday, a similar rescue took place when a young girl and two adults were saved by helicopter from the roof of the Fathima Supermarket building on Airport Road. A fire had begun in what appeared to be makeshift rooftop accommodation.

Eleven people were treated for injuries after that fire. Abu Dhabi Municipality has pledged to take strict action against property owners who breach building regulations and the police have said they would conduct aerial surveillance of the city rooftops to spot illegal dwellings. Fire crews in Sharjah were also stretched to the limit yesterday when a huge inferno consumed a cooking-oil storage depot, causing losses which officials estimated could run into as much as Dh7 billion. The blaze, which broke out at 2am, appeared to have started at the Emirates Refinery Company (ERCO) and firemen battled to contain it and prevent it spreading to more than 50 oil storage facilities located nearby. Sea fire fighting units used jets of seawater from Khalid Port in an attempt to control the flames, reported the state news agency WAM.

Sharjah Police said a fire had started in the same location two days ago, which is still being investigated. The Emirates Lube Oil Company, only 200 metres away, was damaged in a similar blaze in August last year. Port Khalid was shut down and offices were evacuated as flames dozens of metres high shot up into the air. "Our biggest achievement has been stopping the fire from spreading to other companies," said Col Abdallah Mubarak Dukhan of the Sharjah Police.

The blaze has destroyed almost all the contents of the factory, which was full of cooking-oil barrels packaged and ready for marketing. Unconfirmed reports suggest the fire started from a rubbish skip in the dispatch area of the manufacturing unit. An ERCO official said although small storage tanks or cylinders may have exploded, around 50 main oil tanks were safe. At least four explosions were heard by people who waited outside the port area. "The smoke could be seen all the way from Ajman to Dubai," said one motorist. "It looks like the fire has been burning all night."

Two firemen and a worker were taken to hospital with smoke inhalation, said Brig Mohammed Humaid al Hudaid, the director general of Sharjah Police. Witnesses and officials from neighbouring companies said about 150 people were in the facility when the fire began. "We were rescuing people and trying to prevent the fire from spreading to neighbouring oil storage tanks," said a worker from a nearby company who was working when the fire erupted.

An official at the Seaport and Customs Department said sections of the Khalid port may be closed for a day or two depending on the damage and oil spill caused by the fire. More than 40 per cent of the UAE's manufactured goods are transported through the port.

Vessels were asked to use other ports to load and unload, according to one shipping agent, who added that the cost to his company of taking goods from one port to another was significant. In Aug 2007, what was then called the largest oil terminal fire broke out in the same industrial area. Two oil reservoirs at the Emirates Lube Oil Company burned and its buildings were gutted. pmenon@thenational.ae jhume@thenational.ae ykakande@thenational.ae