International

Huge high-rise catches fire in UAE

Flames have been observed shooting up the sides of an apartment tower in the United Arab Emirates city of Sharjah after it caught on fire just as residents were finishing their nightly Ramadan feast.

The blaze at the 48-storey Abbco Tower in Sharjah, a city-state neighbouring Dubai, caused flaming debris to shower neighbouring parking lots and left metal siding littered on surrounding streets late on Tuesday.

The 190-metre tower is among the tallest buildings in Sharjah, one of the seven sheikhdoms that makes up the UAE.

The fire started around 9:00pm, just after those fasting for the holy month of Ramadan had finished their nightly meals.

At least seven people suffered minor injuries in the blaze, the government-run Sharjah Media Office said on Twitter.

Authorities gave no cause for the blaze, which smouldered into early Wednesday morning.

Firefighters used a ladder truck to spray water into the building, whose cement-block walls stood charred and exposed after the fire.

Syrian Fadlallah Hassoun, who had just finished his day’s meal in his apartment in the tower, told The Associated Press he initially dismissed the fire alarm as a test.

Afterwards, he cradled his white cat Vodka, whom he rescued from the building.

“Me and my family just directly went down with everything we had and just what we were wearing,” Mr Hassoun said.

Many other residents also left the building with nothing other than face masks required in the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Hassoun praised authorities for contacting him soon after the incident to offer help.

“They took our names so that they can see what they can do for us and help us because now we are out and we have no idea what we are going to do,” he said.

“We are just waiting in the street and seeing what’s going to happen.”

The UAE, including skyscraper-studded Dubai, has suffered a spate of fires in its high-rises in recent years.

The reason for the blazes, building and safety experts say, is the material used for the buildings’ sidings — an aluminum-composite panel cladding.

While some types of cladding can be made with fire-resistant material, experts say those that have caught fire in the UAE and elsewhere were not designed to meet stricter safety standards and often were put onto buildings without any gaps to slow or halt a possible blaze.

On New Year’s Eve 2015, a 63-storey luxury hotel called The Address Downtown hotel went up in flames in Dubai. There were no serious injuries.

Hundreds of residents of the city’s Torch Tower also escaped a blaze in August 2017, the second to hit the high-rise since 2015. www.abc.net.au