Cigarettes, sheesha, winds to blame for Torch Tower fire?

Authorities said the fire broke out in an apartment on the 51st floor of the 87-storey tower that houses 676 apartments, and spread rapidly due to the strong winds.

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By Amira Agarib, Nivriti Butalia And Dhanusha Gokulan

Published: Mon 23 Feb 2015, 1:04 AM

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

The Torch Tower in Dubai Marina after the fire was brought under control on Saturday morning. — KT photo by Leslie Pableo

Dubai — Sheesha and cigarettes on balconies are a “big, big problem”, said an official of Select Group, the builders of Torch Tower in Dubai Marina, where a fire broke out on the 51st floor and quickly spread up to the 83rd floor.

The fire that spread upwards

A balanced fire protection approach to construction of high-rise towers is the need of the hour, a fire safety expert has said. The blaze that broke out at the Torch Tower at Dubai Marina began on the 51st floor and quickly spread up to the 83rd floor.

According to eyewitnesses, the fire spread upwards, burning everything in its way. Sajid Raza, advisor and vice-president at Butler Engineering, a company that specialises in fire and life safety consultation for buildings in the UAE, said this is “unnatural” as building materials must stop the spread of fire.

“In the case of most high-rise buildings, the paneling of glass is done with the highest quality aluminum composite paneling and the spandrel needs to be at least 36 inches thick, providing high levels to safety to the building. This is the protocol followed by the Civil Defence team,” said Raza.

An eyewitness who was present on site at 2.15am on Saturday, said fire engulfed each floor within 10 minutes. “Every 10 minutes, the fire spread from one floor to the next. It is unusual because buildings today are made to withstand such fires and construction materials should stop the fire instead of fanning it on. It looked like the glass was burning,” said R. Sudheer, who is an architect.

Raza insisted that buildings must have a “passive fire protection provision” that is in line with the UAE Fire and Life Safety Code that was drawn by the UAE Civil Defence Department in July 2011.

“In this case, there is a possibility that combustible material could have been used and that is what gave the flame the support to move up to the 83rd floor,” he said.

Raza also opined that there is a “slight possibility” of the winds not having much to do with the fire spreading vertically.

“People here just don’t care about the safety of others. They don’t understand the consequences of a cigarette butt flung from a balcony.”

The European gentleman, red-eyed, in his neon jacket, had been at the site since 3am. The official, who didn’t wish to be named as he was not authorised to talk to the Press, said: “The fire was outside, the external facade, not in the apartments. Go to any building in Marina, every third balcony will have a sheesha.”

Speaking of the damage, he said floors 51 till 80 were burnt on the east side, and on the west side, 51 down to 30 — “but only from the outside”. He said no major damage has been caused inside the apartments. “The firefighters were inside the apartments hosing down the blaze.”

People don’t learn, he said, referring to the fire that was reported in Tamweel Tower in JLT in 2012, which was caused by a cigarette butt.

There’s nothing lacking in “our safety checklist”, he said. “We do our drills, enforce regulation and policy. We have every aspect of building safety taken care of, but what can you do when people ... just don’t care about others. We have a society of ‘I don’t cares’. I just saw a man on the 70th floor of Princess Tower fling a cigarette and I wanted to slap his face! People need to know that if you leave sheesha outside, or throw cigarette butts, oxygen feeds fire, and it will burn through steel! An 80kmph wind can wreak havoc if it takes along a piece of burning coal.”

Minor injuries

Seven people sustained minor injuries — most of them suffocation-related — in the fire that raged for over two hours at Torch Tower early Saturday morning, according to the Dubai Civil Defence.

Authorities said the fire broke out in an apartment on the 51st floor of the 87-storey tower that houses 676 apartments, and spread rapidly due to the strong winds.

The Civil Defence brigades from various stations arrived at the fire scene around 1.58am. The blaze was brought under control at 4.24am, while the cooling operation was started at 4.31am.

Director-General of Dubai Civil Defence Major-General Rashid Thani Al Matrooshi said the authority prevented the blaze from spreading to the neighbouring buildings despite the strong winds.

No foulplay suspected

Major-General Khamis Mattar Al Mazeina, Commander-in-Chief of the Dubai Police, said preliminary investigations have showed that there is no criminal motive behind the fire.

Some passersby sustained minor injuries and received treatment on site. A statement behind the exact cause of the fire will be released later.

Select Group said in a statement on Saturday that over 1,000 occupants of the building were safely evacuated. At the time of going to Press, the residents of the tower were being allowed back into the tower by the authorities.

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