Many of the 125 families that lived in the Al Bakar ‘A’ Tower in the Al Tawoun area of Sharjah spent two nights in their cars or with friends and relatives, temporary accommodation provided by Red Crescent and other charities or in the open in front of the building that went up in flames on Tuesday night.
Angry residents gathered in front of the building said many families did not get any alternative accommodation or money reportedly offered by the building’s owner, a Qatar businessman, who is yet to reach the spot. They were anxiously waiting outside the building to get permission from Sharjah Police to pick up whatever is left in their charred flats.
Residents said about 50 flats on one side of Tower A have been affected by the fire and 25 families must have lost almost everything – household appliances, electronic goods, clothes, documents and other valuables in their homes.
About 125 families were living in the two-year old building owned by Al Bakr Real Estate. “This is all that I could take out from my charred flat. I have lost almost everything in my house. Except these two suitcases, I am left with nothing,” said Andy, an African national, who lived in one of the affected flats. “I had to stay out for two nights and now I have to find alternative accommodation because everything in my flat is gone,” he said, while moving his belongings to his car.
“We spent two nights in my car parked outside the building. I did not send my child to school because she does not have her uniform and everything is in the flat. While our children spent the night with my parents, we spent two days in our small car,” said a resident of the second floor of the 28-floor residential tower, located among the high-rise buildings surrounding Al Tawoun Mall and Sharjah Expo Centre.
Resident said the mysterious fire from the first floor of the building where they were making a fire outside a flat and grilling meat. “There are various theories about how the fire started from the first floor. Many residents believe it started from the barbeque fire on the veranda of the two flats on the first floor. It started on Tuesday night and the fire spread to many more floors because the Civil Defence team that arrived did not do their work properly. They were waiting outside and talking when the fire was spreading from the first floor. It would have been easy for them to contain the fire within the first five floors. When they were waiting outside with insufficient equipment, the fire spread up to the 28th floor. Only after fire engines from Dubai arrived, there was any serious firefighting,” said an angry resident, who said neither the building’s fire alarm nor the sprinkler system worked.
“When my son-in-law woke up at 3.30 am to go to the toilet, he smelt smoke in our flat. When he looked outside, the building was on fire. Some people woke up at 4 am on Wednesday to find the building on fire. The fire alarm did not work and nobody alerted them about the fire,” said another resident, who too spent two nights outside.
“It is suspected that the fire started from the barbeque fire on the first floor. Residents were sitting around the barbeque fire to keep themselves warm. Some families used to make fires outside their flats to fight the cold,” said another resident.
Many of the residents were deep in sleep. “Like many of our family members, I was sleeping fully covered with a blanket because it was very cold,” said another resident.
Sharjah Civil Defence is investigating the cause of the fire and an official report is yet to be released. Fourteen vehicles parked outside the building were also burnt totally. Residents of neighbouring high-rise buildings escaped unhurt as the fire did not reach their flats.
“I lived in a flat on the higher floors of Al Nayli building next to Al Bakr Tower. I got up early morning on Wednesday because people were pressing the calling bell. When I came out, I could see panicky people rushing out. They were alerted by the police siren and firefighting vehicles,” said S, an Indian national.
Other high rise towers close to the Al Bakr Tower are Al Riyami, Al Saad, Sakkir and Al Nayli towers. Burnt aluminum foils and other building materials were scattered around the burnt building. “The building’s owner promised Dh 200 per night for the affected families but nowhere in Dubai or Sharjah is a room available for that money. They promised Dh 400 for a two-night stay outside, but insisted on showing the receipt or proof of payment. My tenancy contract will be over after three months and we plan to move to a safer building. I don’t know what is left in my house. We had to spend two nights outside and it seems there is no insurance cover for the residents. The building owner may get compensation from the insurance company but not the tenants,” he added.
“Me and my brother have been standing outside the building to get permission to go inside and check our belongings. All our important documents in the flat have been burnt,” said K, an Indian businessman.
An Indian housewife, who spent two nights outside the building in the open, said: “We lived on the twentieth floor of the tower. We are yet to know what things were all burnt in the flat. I could not even take out my laptop or mobile phone. We have been trapped here for two days now and there is no sign of relief.”
Most residents could escape because of the horn siren of the fire fighting vehicles. The fire from the eastern side of the building spread fast because of strong winds and explosion of gas cylinders in kitchens and vehicles parked outside the building. Many residents have lost their passports, national ID cards and other documents.
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