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'I think our building is on fire'

When Reena Amos Dyes returned from a fun night out with her family she had no idea terror was just hours away.

  • Reena Amos Dyes lost her home but found greater faith. Image Credit: Supplied picture
  • Ashmit, Reena’s son, was with his parents on that terrifying night. Image Credit: Supplied picture

It had been a great evening. I'd been out with my husband Akash and our son Ashmit to watch a show by Bollywood comedian Johnny Lever and was still laughing about it as I entered our apartment. We lived on the ninth floor of Al Tayer building in Al Nahda, Sharjah, and as soon as we walked through the front door we noticed that there was an acrid smell in the air.

My husband and I stepped out onto the balcony to see if everything was okay but couldn't see anything untoward.

Believing it was just the smell of somebody having a barbecue, we got into bed at around 2.10am, but then found that the smell was getting stronger. Alarmed, my husband got out of bed to check and a few seconds later he shouted, "Come and see this. I think our building is on fire."

I ran onto the balcony and was horrified to see an orange glow from the lower floors.

My husband immediately ran to the bathroom and started filling buckets with water to pour on the fire from the window. That didn't work though as the wind was carrying the water away before it could reach the first floor from where the fire seemed to be blazing.

Realising it was futile, he ran to the bedroom balcony to grab the laundry from the clothes horse there as the flames were reaching the fourth floor by this point.

Akash, 42, wanted to clear the balcony as he didn't want the fire to have anything to have anything to feed on when it reached our floor. After closing the balcony door, we began to grab whatever we felt was important and prepared to leave the flat.

We woke Ashmit, 14, and told him to run down the stairs while my husband went in search of our cat, Tigger, I went to the safe to retrieve our valuables and documents. As I went to punch in the code I saw red flames at the window. Terror clutched at me, and it took all my concentration to make my fingers hit the right numbers because my hands were shaking so much.

Living on the ninth floor, which in reality was the 15th floor as we had six floors of parking under us, I had always feared such a calamity. That's why we had decided to keep all our valuables and important documents in one bag in the safe so that in case of a disaster we could pick up the contingency bag and run.

Once I had found the bag we ran down the stairs, not even stopping to get dressed. We were in our night clothes but I was more worried about our cat. My husband hadn't been able to find Tigger, but we hoped he had escaped. We ran down so quickly I was scared we'd trip and break our necks. When we reached the fifth floor we were plunged into darkness. The lights in the stairwell weren't working so we used the light from our mobile phones to see. Somehow we - along with several other families on the stairs - all made it down in one piece and rushed outside.

That's when we saw what was happening. I stared, in shock, at the major blaze that had reached up to the sixth floor. We called the fire department but we were told that they were already on their way.

As we watched the flames spread, my son started crying. I hugged him and told him that it was fine because we were all safe and that was all that mattered right now.

My husband, who has always been so strong, was now in a daze. As the heat grew more intense and the glass and air conditioners started to burst, it took all our might to pull him away from the building as he was just standing there immobile, helplessly watching what we called our home burn.

Prayers and comfort

For the next four hours we watched the fire blaze in flats around ours, and we prayed that our home would escape the tragedy.

Then at around 9am as my sister and her husband who we'd called, came to fetch us and take us to their home. We took a last look at the still blazing building and realised that overnight we had become refugees. I couldn't stop sobbing.

My faith in humanity was restored that night when strangers offered help, and our friend Rachel Mukucha, who also lives in Al Nahda, came and offered to put us up.

Our best friends Deepika and Mohit Mittal brought us clothes, shoes, bags, money and a lot of love. Calls poured in from friends, colleagues, family and even friends and relatives in India.

For the next two days we anxiously waited to find out if our rented home had survived the fire. Sunday night brought the good news that apart from a blackened wall and a few burnt curtains our flat had indeed been spared. We'd had not only escaped and managed to grab our life savings we had also witnessed a miracle of sorts - we could salvage most of our furniture.

There was another piece of good news: we found our pet cat. He was cowering in the corner of the basement car park and was healthy, though he seemed quite shaken. We were so relieved to find him.

We have now moved into a new flat inthe same area. The incident has made melook at life in a new light. I have a lot more faith in people now.

Reena's tips

  • Keep an emergency bag including
  • l passportsof every family member;
  • l original documents such as degree certificates, insurance contracts, etc;l a set of clothes;
  • l at least a day's worth of medicine the family needs;
  • l nappies for babies; and
  • l valuables.
  • Also keep the following handy:mobile phones and a wallet with cash and your important items like ID, health insurance and credit cards; and driver's licence.