Evacuated residents of the Tamweel Tower in the Jumeirah Lakes Towers wait outside the building after a fire broke out in the high-rise on Sunday. Image Credit: Pankaj Sharma/Gulf News

Dubai: Authorities on Monday began an investigation into the cause of a fire that displaced hundreds of people, as news unfolded that courageous residents of Tamweel Tower calmly helped each other exit the burning building as flames engulfed the 34-floor structure on Sunday.

A spokesman for the Dubai Civil Defence said that more than 600 people were affected and that 61 hotel rooms have been booked for displaced families while cleaning of the tower is ongoing.

Strong winds reportedly fanned the massive fire that ripped though Tamweel Tower in Jumeirah Lakes Towers (JLT) at 2am on Sunday. Despite the strong fire, only minor injuries and no casualties were reported.

The residents of the tower were evacuated in an orderly manner to safety along with the residents of nearby towers Al Seef 2 and Al Seef 3.

Among those who were badly hit was Mr. Patel, an Indian expatriate, who told Gulf News that he could only sit and watch as fire engulfed the apartment which he had bought for his family two years ago.

The Patel family was sleeping when the fire alarm went off. His wife, child, mother, who has a kidney problem, and Patel had to go down 33 floors. They were only able to salvage their mobile phones and wallet.

“Our flat is totally burned. You can see the broken glass and the black soot covering it,” said Patel who lives in the flat no. 3303.

“When we reached the ground, we saw that the fire had not yet reached our flat. But wind was blowing towards the fire and somehow spread it to our flat,” he added.

A resident, who declined to be named, said that he was awake even before the fire broke out.

Flying debris

“I smelled smoke and could see a glow, like there was something burning from across us and some debris flying,” the resident said.

He said the design of the building somehow helped fuel the fire. “The design of this building is like a flower. So the overhanging parts of that flower, at the top, caught fire and fell down on the ground and on the balconies which caused the fire in other floors,” the resident said.

Some residents said they tried to douse the fire on their own, but failed.

“Our neighbour’s house was already on fire but we had no idea the upper floors were also on fire. We tried to douse the fire with buckets of water before the sprinklers finally went on,” J.B. from the UK who lives on the 12th floor told Gulf News.

“Our neighbour tried to help but he slipped and hurt his head in the process. So I picked him up, grabbed him and we evacuated the building,” he added.

“We heard a strange sound, like metal getting burned and hitting the windows,” Sheila, from the 28th floor, said. “Some of our neighbours tried to douse the fire using the fire hose and fire extinguishers but they didn’t work, so we had to go down.”

Some of the families stayed on the ground and watched as firefighters tried to douse the fire. They said it took fire fighters “a long time” to spray water onto the building.

Tough job for firefighters

Firefighters had to go to the neighbouring Al Seef Tower 2 to spray water to the adjacent Tamweel Tower.

“We want to know what security measures are in place in case there’s fire on our roof and we live on a high-rise building. We were down here from 2am to 8.30am and it took them a long time to extinguish the fire. We just had to wait and pray that everybody else was safe. We want an answer for these questions,” a resident from Al Seef 2 told Gulf News.

Hotel arrangements have been made for families displaced by the fire, according to Varun Sood, acting chief executive officer, Tamweel.

“Our staff are on site and have provided transportation and hotel accommodation, in coordination with Dubai Multi Commodities Centre [DMCC], to any resident who requires such assistance.

“We will continue to work with the Building’s Owners Association to assist all residents and we remain fully committed to ensuring their well-being,” said Sood.

Probe into fire

The fire broke out at around 1.30am and was extinguished by 8.19am. Authorities have begun investigations into the cause of the fire.

But residents suspect the fire started on the recreational area in the 34th floor where a pool, jacuzzi, gym and the air conditioning plant are located.

From the outside, parts of the building where cladding materials were used were completely charred. The glass side of the building remained intact. Residents said falling debris had sparked fire on the lower floors.

On the ground, at least six cars were damaged by the fire, including a play area near the building. Charred cladding materials could be seen scattered around.

At around 2pm on Sunday, residents of Tamweel Tower were allowed to go up and gather their belongings. But they were only allowed until the 17th floor as the 18th to 33rd floors were “too risky”, ground officials said.

Residents of Al Seef 2 and 3 were allowed to go back to their apartments at around 8am on Sunday.

Four stations responded to the scene: Al Manara, Al Karama, Satwa and Rashidiya, Civil Defence said.

Over 50 families were accommodated at Armada Towers 1 and 2 and 61 rooms were booked for displaced families at the Bonnington Hotel. Several others were asked to stay at Al Mas Tower.