Sharjah fire
Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

Sharjah: May 5’s Abbco Tower blaze in Al Nahda, Sharjah was almost certainly caused by a discarded cigarette butt or shisha coals thrown onto the 10th floor from one of the flats above, according to a top official.

Twelve people suffered minor injuries in the incident that has left over 250 families having to stay in hotels until the building can be renovated.

Brigadier Ahmed Haji Al Sarkal, Acting Director General of Police Operations and head of forensic laboratory, said, ‘’The fire was caused 90 per cent either by a cigarette butt or Shisha coals, which had been discarded in the corridor of the first floor.

“It was thrown from upper floors and settled on the 10th floor (the first residential floor after nine levels of parking), where the fire started.

“However police investigations are ongoing to find out the exact reason,” added Al Sarkal, who was speaking to press in a virtual press conference to discuss the fire on Sunday.

What is Shisha?
Smoking shisha involves burning wood, coal or charcoal to heat up tobacco (shisha). Flavoured tobacco (commonly called ‘maassel’) is often used.

When the tobacco is heated up, it produces smoke. The smoke bubbles through a bowl of water or other liquid and into a long hose-like tube or pipe. Smoke is inhaled through a mouthpiece fitted to the end of the pipe. Shisha is popular in Middle Eastern and North African communities, especially among young people. It’s becoming increasingly popular elsewhere.

Al Sarkal said, ‘’Out of 333 apartments, 233 are still closed and will be opened in the presence of their owners, 100 have been inspected and out of that 100, 26 are completely destroyed, 34 are affected by water and smoke and 40 have had their doors damaged.”

He added that 33 vehicles had been damaged, 16 of which were in the street below and a further 17 that were in the building’s car park. There were 56 vehicles parked in the parking lots of the building at the time and 39 were undamaged.

150 buildings will now have to have their cladding replaced

Colonel Sami Khamis Al Naqbi, Director General of Sharjah Civil Defence, said that as a result of the fire, 150 buildings in Sharjah would now have to have their cladding replaced.

He said that Abbco Tower, was fitted with cladding that had been banned in 2016 and that only new builds of less than seven storeys or 23 metres – to allow for fire engine ladder length – were now allowed to fit the cladding.

There exists plenty of buildings built before the banning order however that still have the banned cladding included Abbco, which was built in 2006, and Al Naqbi said all old buildings found with the cladding – thought to be around 150 in Sharjah – would now have to have their cladding replaced.

‘’More than 150 old buildings in the emirate are fitted with banned cladding,” said Al Naqbi. “And the department in coordination with concerned authorities are working to amend them and replace them with safe materials .’’

Al Naqbi added that old buildings were already in the process of having their cladding replaced at the time of the fire and that Al Zahra Hospital, Fine Fair Building and Nasser Tower in the emirate had already responded to previous government calls to replace their cladding.

‘’There is plan for old buildings to replace dangerous material with safe ones,” said Al Naqbi. “Sharjah Civil Defence is now considering a programme to get buildings to replace old cladding and even help building owners conduct replacements and find alternative materials at a reduced cost.’’

He stressed that the safety of residents in buildings within the emirate remains the top priority of Sharjah Civil Defence.

“Sharjah Civil Defence is encouraging developers, real estate owners and contractors to adopt safer methods and systems other than cladding used in the facades of buildings, which entails a heavy financial burdens on real estate.”

As for allegations of fire escapes being blocked and furniture in the corridor hindering the safe escape of tenants, Al Naqbi said if any violations were found during the investigation the owner would face legal action.

Meanwhile, Sharjah International Charity has provided accommodation to 650 tenants on the directive of His Highness Dr Shaikh Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah, and on Saturday night the charity conducted medical tests for the tenants in hotels to make sure they were free from coronavirus.

Eighty eight firefighters and 22 fire engines from six stations were called to the scene and no injuries were reported among them.