Most Dubai fires accidental, says expert

Data from the Dubai Statistics Centre indicates that between 2011 and 2013, almost 22 per cent of all fires were deemed to be caused by electrical sparks.


Bernd Debusmann Jr.

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Published: Mon 23 Feb 2015, 12:55 AM

Last updated: Thu 25 Jun 2015, 7:45 PM

The burnt sides of Tamweel Tower, Jumeirah Lake Towers in November, 2012. -KT file photo

Dubai - A study of more than 5,000 fires in Dubai found that only 4.6 per cent were set deliberately, a rate of arson that is low by international standards and reflects the UAE’s low crime rate overall.

In the UK, for example, well over a third of fires are set deliberately.

“I believe this (low rate) is a good reflection of the number of crimes in the UAE as a whole, which is considerably lower than in many countries around the world,” said Mohammed Alqassim, one of the authors of the study, which spanned eight years, from January 2006 to December 2013.

Alqassim is a first lieutenant at Dubai General Police HQ who is currently undergoing his PhD studies at the University of Dundee, Scotland.

According to the study, the majority of the 5,490 fires investigated occurred in motor vehicles. Fires in residential homes were second on the list, followed by commercial stores, construction sites, electrical sign boards, government establishments, ships and boats and used tyres and solid waste. Electrical failures were the most likely cause of fires across the board.

Data from the Dubai Statistics Centre, for example, indicates that between 2011 and 2013, almost 22 per cent of all fires were deemed to be caused by electrical sparks.

Alqassim says the large number of car fires is likely because they are considerably more flammable than buildings. “Most materials used within automobiles are flammable,” he said. “They can be easily ignited with simple heat sources like matches and lighters.”

In cases of arson, “the offenders tend to start a fire in vehicles because they believe it can easily destroy the identifying evidence.”

Alqassim noted that while a large number of car fires are due to insurance scams, there are a variety of factors at play, including, sometimes, teenage delinquency.

The year 2008 had the greatest number of fires, with 838, and 2011 was the safest year, with 618. Over the eight-year period, covered by the study, 112 people were killed and 361 were injured during fire incidents. The deadliest year was 2010, in which 30 people were killed in fires. A total of 27.3 per cent of Dubai’s fires occurred in the busy area covered by Bur Dubai Police Station, followed by Al Rashidiya with 13.2 per cent and Jebel Ali with 12.9 per cent.

Alqassim noted that Jebel Ali was particularly prone to fires, despite having a much lower population density than Bur Dubai.“Jebel Ali industrial area had more fires than most areas within Bur Dubai,” he said.

“The majority of the cases dealt with were due to negligence and labourers not complying with the health and safety regulations imposed by local authorities.”

Increasingly effective government regulations, however, have caused the number of electrical fires to drop over time.

For example, government regulations led to a drastic drop in the number of construction fires over time, following a 193 per cent increase between 2006 and 2008.

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