Sharjah: Hundreds of families were displaced after a massive fire broke out in a high rise residential tower near Al Nahda Park early on Saturday morning.
Authorities on Saturday closed down the 40-storey Al Tayer Tower, which has 408 residential flats and a six-level parking, for safety purposes, forcing families to stay at the nearby park while some sought shelter in hotels. Some went to houses of friends or relatives.
Brigadier Abdullah Saeed Al Suwaidi, Director-General of Sharjah Civil Defence Department, said the fire started on the first floor and rapidly spread to the higher floors.
The fire broke out at 2:25am, he said.
"As soon we were notified we immediately rushed to the building and [evacuated] its tenants. The fire erupted at one side of the back of the building. Firefighters from all emirates contributed in the extinguishing process. We cordoned off the neighbouring buildings to ensure that the fire would not spread," said Al Suwaidi.
Brigadier Abdullah Mubarak Al Dukhan, Deputy Chief of Sharjah Police, who personally supervised the operation, said that the construction materials used for the building's facade were made of flammable materials that caused the fire to spread.
The building management could not be reached for comment at press time.
The building security told Gulf News that they were prohibited from speaking to the media. No injuries or casualties were reported.
A total of 102 flats were damaged by the fire.
Saima Nadeema, who lives in flat 608 with her family, said they lost everything in the fire. "We just came out like this. [All] of our property including our documents, passports, ATM cards, car registration, national ID —everything is gone," Saima told Gulf News.
"We were sleeping ... when we heard the fire alarm. We didn't notice the fire, but we could already see smoke coming in. We started choking so I went to the balcony to check. The balcony on the fourth floor was already on fire. We live on the 6th floor," she said.
Saima said she immediately grabbed her four-year-old daughter and led her family of five, including her parents, down the staircase to escape from the burning building.
"Some of the floors were dark. Some people were crying because some of their family members were missing. There was chaos and everybody was shouting, some were crying," she said. "It was really terrible. I've never felt like this before."
Tenants complained that it took the authorities some time to actually start extinguishing the fire.
"It took a lot of time for the authorities to act. When we came down, the fourth floor was already on fire. In half an hour, the whole building was in flames. Even the cars below the building caught fire," Saima said. "We called the civil defence at around 2.30am; they arrived 30 minutes later and began dousing the fire an hour later," a tenant, who requested not to be named, said.
"The small fire trucks responded right away. They were there, but they were not putting out the fire. By the time the big fire trucks came, the area was already blocked and crowded. They could not get into the side of the building where the fire was right away. By 3am, the fire was already halfway through the building," a tenant on the second floor said.
The fire was extinguished by 5:30am while the cooling process took several hours. A total of 45 vehicles belonging to residents were also destroyed in the fire.
Sharjah Charity and UAE Red Crescent were on the scene to record the names of the affected families. Three tents have been put up for the families' temporary shelter. Food was also distributed in the afternoon. They also provided hotel vouchers for three nights' stay in a hotel.
The main cause of the fire remains unknown but the incident is similar to the one at Al Baker Tower.