Residents seen running into burning Dubai building to save belongings, witnesses say
DUBAI // Witnesses have described the sense of panic as their neighbours fled from fire that swept through the Al Shamsi building in Deira on Monday night.
Emergency crews spent much of Tuesday hosing down the still smoking building that burst into flames at about 5.20pm, to guard against further fires.
Everyone escaped unhurt but some who returned home from work risked their lives to enter the building to rescue important documents and prized possessions.
Some of the people left without anywhere to go have been handed a lifeline as 48 families will be relocated.
Civil Defence were on the scene near the Abu Baker Al Siddique Metro Station within minutes, as concern grew that the blaze could spread to the Emarat petrol station on Salahuddin Road, escalating the crisis into a disaster.
About 280 guests staying at the adjacent Movenpick Hotel Deira were evacuated as a precaution.
Irtenz, 34, from the Philippines, lives in Block C of the building, next to where the main fire broke out, and said at least 15 flats have been destroyed.
“The fire started in Block B at about 5.20-5.30pm. When I came back from work I saw the smoke in the building next door and went upstairs as I thought my friends were still upstairs in their flat. I wanted to warn them,” she said.
“I shouted their names but nobody replied. When I came out of the flat, I could see the flames on the second floor on the front side.
“It was scary. There was one guy who came into the building and was running upstairs.
“I warned him not to go but still he went up. The fire was spreading quickly. I had stayed just five minutes to collect some things and it had moved very fast.”
Her neighbour, Richelle, 30, also from the Philippines, was not at home when the fire broke out but admitted that she had a lucky escape, as she lives on the fourth floor.
“I had my documents in a bag, so I grabbed it and ran,” she said.
“There are about 15 other people living in four rooms in my building. We are still trying to contact the building company to help us find somewhere to live.
“We will stay with friends for a couple of days. We have had to wait until we can go back into the building to see what possessions we can save.”
The owner of the building, Hamad Al Shamsi, along with Dubai Police, have relocated 48 families to hotels.
Brig Mohammed Al Murr, director of the police Human Rights Department, said of the fire-ravaged building: “The cooling process is ongoing, and none of the residents are allowed in for their safety and so there is no tampering with any evidence that can reveal the cause of the fire.”
Meanwhile, a Civil Defence spokesman said that 24 units were burned completely while the others were affected by the smoke. However, he added that it was necessary to relocate all residents.
Brig Ali Ghanem, director of the Al Muraqqabat police station, said: “The fire affected the whole building. Evidence needs to be collected by the relevant experts, after which the damage can be properly assessed.”
It is understood the fire was finally extinguished at about 3am but crews remained on the scene to continue the damping down of the building.
Hotel worker Jeffrey, from the Philippines, lived in the front side of the building and sounded the alarm to his neighbours. His apartment has been completely burnt out.
“When I saw the smoke coming from the building from B block and C block, I called everyone to get out and to run away,” he said.
“It was very fierce. Lots of the ladies were crying, they had lost their homes.”
Hundreds of motorists and commuters were affected, with the Metro’s Green Line shut down “for the safety of passengers” and Salahuddin Road blocked off in both directions.
The Roads and Transport Authority tweeted early on Tuesday morning that the metro service was back up and running.
“RTA announced the return of service on the Dubai Metro green line to normal and that is after the temporary suspension of service from Abu Hail station to Union Station due to a fire outbreak in a nearby building,” the tweet read.
The nearby Crowne Plaza hotel was undamaged by the fire and continued operating normally.
Anke Glaessing, general manager at the Movenpick Hotel Deira, had completed a practise evacuation with Civil Defence just days before the fire.
“Evacuation drills are something we have to do twice a year,” she said.
“We saw the fire and realised it could be a problem because of the petrol station, not just the fire itself. We got all the guests out very quickly.
“It took us just 10 minutes to evacuate.”
Forensic investigation work was continuing on Tuesday, although a cause has yet to be identified.
* Additional reporting by Dana Moukhallati
Updated: November 24, 2015 04:00 AM