Fire at National Paints halts traffic

A huge fire raged for hours yesterday at Sharjah's landmark National Paints factory and warehouse, forcing a temporary closure and causing major traffic disruption.

However, company officials said the plant will resume both production and supply to all customers and agents from today.

The fire started around 8.45 am yesterday, causing panic in the Sharjah industrial area adjacent to the paint factory. The area has huge underground tanks that store enamel, white spirit, kerosene and other inflammable materials used in paint manufacturing.

National Paints is a leading paint manufacturer in the Middle East with an installed capacity of 400,000 tonnes per year and annual sales of $1 billion (Dh3.67bn). It uses raw materials partially processed at its facility in Jebel Ali and then mixed in the paint factory, which is located in a busy residential and commercial area of Sharjah.

The fire led to an unofficial holiday for most offices and factories in the area. Leaders Aluminium, an aluminium fabrication unit, and a tyre warehouse were burnt in the fire.

An employee at the factory said: "The fire was caused by a spark when enamel was being pumped into the underground storage tanks. A barrel containing paint chemicals burst and the chemicals spread inside the factory, causing fire everywhere. As the underground tank burst, the blaze spread to the adjacent areas, causing panic.

"Two of my colleagues were injured and some workers fainted. There is no major casualty, as all the employees ran out of the factory and warehouse."

"Some of exploding chemicals hit our printing press. We have evacuated all the staff from the press," said an employee at Record Printing Press, next to the paint factory.

As the flames spread, many vehicles parked outside the factory, including a trailer, a civil defence fire-fighting vehicle and some pick-up vans, caught fire. The blaze could only be controlled by evening. Civil defence personnel cordoned off the area to prevent the spreading of exploding chemicals. Teams from Sharjah, Ajman, Dubai and Abu Dhabi worked throughout the day to control the fire, using water and special chemicals poured from helicopters.

They evacuated residents of labour accommodations in the area and controlled traffic through the Emirates Road and all the arterial roads close to the fire.

The National Paints factory has a fire-fighting system provided by Firex, a fire safety company located next door, but the system could not fight off the huge explosions from the underground tanks. A source at Firex said the blaze could have been caused by the wrong mixing of chemicals in the enamel section, but the National Paints officials rubbished such a claim.

A National Paints spokesman said the fire did not damage the factory's production lines. "I am inside the paint factory and the fire is now under control. The fire did not cause any death, injury or damage to the plants. The fire was confined to the rear part of the factory where PVC materials are stocked. We will ensure that all our customers and distributors get normal delivery from tomorrow," said Naim Mouj, Marketing Manager, National Paints.

The spokesman praised the civil defence teams for putting out the fire without letting it cause too much damage. He declined to reveal the financial damage or the name of the insurance company that covers the factory.


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