x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Residents flee as fire guts top floors of Abu Dhabi apartment block

A fire breaks out on the fifth floor of an apartment block at the junction of Al Falah Street and Muroor Road in the capital today With map.

Abu Dhabi fire fighters put out an apartment blaze on the corner of Muroor Road and 9th in the capital.
Abu Dhabi fire fighters put out an apartment blaze on the corner of Muroor Road and 9th in the capital.

ABU DHABI // Residents forced to flee a fire today have claimed that the eight-storey building in Al Falah Street was overcrowded and had no working fire alarm or fire extinguishers.

It was believed that the fire started on the fifth floor of the Panaderia Bakery building at the junction with Muroor Road at about midday. It spread to the top of the building, gutting the top four floors filling them with smoke and trapping the people inside.

Residents said they were only alerted to the fire by the smell of smoke and, in some cases, were not aware of the blaze until they heard sirens.

Randy Marsada, 28, and his roommate were asleep until they heard the fire engines outside the building. When they woke up, the fire had already reached the flat next door and they could see the flames from their sixth-floor window. They waited on the balcony until firefighters put out the fire and instructed them to leave the building via the stairway.

The two made their way down the staircase slowly and unassisted, with damp clothes and towels covering their faces.

“I saw when we opened the window that room 62 was full of fire,” said Mr Marsada, an electrical engineer from the Philippines.

“We didn’t hear any fire alarm. There is a fire alarm there but I don’t think it was working. We didn’t think to grab any items, we were thinking only of safety.”

Most of the tower’s bedrooms are partitioned and shared by three to six people. Residents pay a few hundred dirhams a month for a bedspace.

Mr Marsada shares his three-room flat with 12 other people, including a family with a young child. He moved to the cramped building a year ago to save money.

“This building is bad for safety,” he said. “They don’t have any policy for safety, we don’t have a hose, the alarm system is not working.”

Two Filipinas who had moved into the building four days ago said they still did not know how many people lived in their flat. “We don’t know how many people are in our room because we come home from work at 1am,” one of the Filipinas said.

Two hours after leaving the building, dozens of residents were still crowded outside waiting to hear from police when it would be safe for them to re-enter.

Residents, some in pyjamas and flip-flops, watched as firefighters fought the blaze and checked the building.

An investigation into the cause of the fire is ongoing, said Abu Dhabi Police Capt Abdullah Al Tamimi, adding that “there were no injuries”.

Some residents were able to escape with bags of belongings or laptop computers. Many had only their wallets. None of the residents interviewed had house insurance.

Analiza Olesco, a Filipina beautician, claimed the building was extremely dangerous.

“Because this is an old building, its the cheapest,” said Ms Olesco. “With our work we don’t have accommodation. This fire system is nothing. There is no bell, nothing.”

She pays Dh700 a month for a bunk bed in a room with three other women.

Ms Olesco was resting before her night shift when she was woken up by the smell of smoke. Shortly after, a police officer knocked on her door. She said she saw only one official enter the building to help residents evacuate the building.


View Abu Dhabi apartment fire location in a larger map

It is the second time there has been a fire in the building recently, residents said.

"It's crowded, that's why," Ms Olesco said.

Amer Asif, 23, from Pakistan, agreed. "Too many people, you cannot count," he said. "Because it is an old building we don't have a fire alarm. We smelled the electricity burning."

Two men died at a fire in a 15-storey building directly across the street in December 2011. One died when he jumped from the 11th floor, the second suffocated inside a bathroom.

Another fire at a 12-storey building on Al Falah Street in May 2010 spread to five flats leaving 80 people homeless. Many were forced to sleep in cars and on the street.

azacharias@thenational.ae