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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 June 2018

Masafi’s fire-ravaged Friday Market may be back to normal but traders still feel after-effects

More than two years on from a blaze that destroyed 13 carpet shops and 16 fruit and veg outlets and normality has returned to the popular market but shop owners are still living with the financial burden of what happened.

Traders at the popular market paid thousands if not millions of dirhams to rebuild their shops and also lost millions in destroyed stock. Reem Mohammed / The National
Traders at the popular market paid thousands if not millions of dirhams to rebuild their shops and also lost millions in destroyed stock. Reem Mohammed / The National

Two years on from a massive fire that tore through the heart of Masafi’s renowned Friday Market stalls, there is little evidence that the blaze even happened at all. However, speak to any of the traders affected and their words tell a different story.

To this day they are still trying to recover losses that ran into millions of dirhams after the fire destroyed 13 carpet and furniture shops and 16 fruit and vegetable outlets in May 2015.

Most rebuilt their shops at huge costs but some had to alter what they sold as they could no longer afford the high cost of buying the products.

“We stopped selling carpets and switched to houseware products, we couldn’t afford buying carpet stock as it cost a lot and we didn’t want to lose everything and go back home empty-handed,” said Azghar Khan, a 42-year-old Pakistani trader who lost Dh1 million in the fire.

He borrowed about Dh120,000 from other traders to rebuild his shop.

“The profit is not much and can’t be compared to the carpet trading but we are still trying to get on our feet again and this is the only solution available for now until we pay back the money that we took from others,” said Mr Khan.

Most of the shop owners were still hoping for compensation from Fujairah government and none of them had insurance as they could not get cover as their stalls didn’t comply with insurers’ safety regulations.

“Insurance companies asked for concrete walls and we build them but then they asked for concrete ceilings and glass doors, which was impossible as it would affect the image of the market and will cost millions of dirhams,” said Noor Khan, another Pakistani shop owner, one who lost Dh13m worth of stock and paid Dh750,000 to rebuild his three shops.

“Some said that the government will give us money to reopen our shops but we didn’t receive anything and managed to rebuild our shops after taking loans from other traders that we will keep paying for years to come,” said the 30-year-old.

His father, Mohammed Khan, added: “We expected to be compensated by the Fujairah ruler after his visit to the market right after the fire but we didn't receive anything, though we’re still waiting and hoping.”

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Read more:

Massive fire damanges shops at Fujairah's Friday Market

Fire could have been prevented if staff had known how to use fire extinguishers

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Since the blaze, traders faced electrical issues but Fujairah Municipality managed to solve the problem seven months ago.

“We used to use generators but now we have proper electrical connections that cost us Dh3,000 to be installed but, still, it’s better than generators,” Noor Khan said.

His father, who runs the Al Safa carpet shop, said that recovering from the fire was not easy. “Although we managed to rebuild the shops we are currently displaying old carpet patterns - we can’t buy the new trends and people are always looking for something new and that affected our business and profit badly,” he said.

The owner of Al Bustan carpet shop said that he had debts before the fire and has even more now.

The fire at Masafi's Friday Market destroyed a total of 29 shops in March 2015. Courtesy Aletihad
The fire at Masafi's Friday Market destroyed a total of 29 shops in March 2015. Courtesy Aletihad

“We had Dh15m worth of merchandise in the shop before the fire and we are still paying for that along with another Dh14m for new stock and the rebuilding cost, which reached Dh2m,” said Bustan Abduljalil, a 70-year-old Afghan trader who owns five carpet shop with his brothers.

“The market is our life and selling carpet is our profession. It’s what we are good at but we don’t want to reach a point where we won’t be able to cover the expenses and workers’ fees, so we appreciate any financial support from the government to keep our business running.” One positive to come from the blaze is that the municipality now conducts training in firefighting techniques so staff at the market are now well versed in what to do in the event of another emergency.

“We took about three firefighting training courses and that was helpful. Fire extinguishers are available in each shop and stall along with regular check-ups done by the municipality to ensure the safety of the place,” said Noor Khan.

The market is a popular attraction, particularly each Friday. Located 35 kilometres inland from Fujairah city, it began in 1990 when a few Emirati farmers set up stalls by the roadside selling fresh fruits and vegetables and other products.

It soon became well-known around the emirate, with various sellers lining either side of the Al Dhaid-Masafi Road, and now it attracts hundreds of tourists and visitors, especially on Fridays during winter.