Dubai probes cause of New Year's Eve hotel fire

Dubai probes cause of New Year's Eve hotel fire
Heavy black smoke still billowed from several floors of The Address Downtown hotel early on Friday after a huge fire erupted ahead of New Year celebrations.
3 min read
31 December, 2015
The fire broke out near the world's tallest building [Twitter]

Smoke was still rising from a 63-storey luxury hotel in Dubai Friday as authorities worked to determine the cause of a spectacular fire that engulfed the building on New Year's Eve.

The huge blaze at The Address Downtown hotel erupted around 9:30 pm (1730 GMT) on Thursday, sparking panic but no reports of serious injuries.

Authorities went ahead with a dazzling fireworks display at the nearby Burj Khalifa - the world's tallest skyscraper - despite the inferno, the latest in a series of fires in recent years to hit the buildings that make up Dubai's futuristic cityscape.

Officials have said the fire erupted from the outside of the building on its 20th floor but the exact cause was not yet known.

A top Dubai security official, Dahi Khalfan, posted a picture on Twitter of a fire beneath a ledge of the building, saying the start of the blaze had been captured by a police criminal investigation photographer.

"This is where the search begins," Khalfan wrote of the picture, which appeared to show a lower portion of the building.

Witnesses described scenes of panic after the fire spread, with residents screaming and some fainting as they rushed to evacuate the building.

"We were sat on the floor at the Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed boulevard waiting for the Burj Khalifa fireworks display. Then we heard sirens and saw some emergency vehicles passing by," British journalist Chris Hough told The New Arab.

"Then some people screamed and pointed at the hotel. It was a small fire at first - quite low down, maybe on the tenth floor. But it spread up the buiding seconds.

"We had to run because of the smoke and ash. It was raining down on us. We were scared there would be a crush with the number of people running away."

Still, authorities said only 16 people had suffered mostly minor injuries.

At least 14 people were slightly injured, one was moderately injured and one person suffered a heart attack during the evacuation, the government said.

Firefighters spent the night trying to extinguish the blaze.

Residents open homes

Heavy black smoke still billowed from several floors of the hotel early on Friday, as firefighters continued to douse the building with water hoses.

Roads leading directly to the hotel were closed but otherwise Dubai city centre appeared normal, with passers-by stopping to take pictures of the building with their mobile phones.

The hashtag #NeedanAddress trended on Twitter overnight as Dubai residents offered to open their homes to evacuated hotel guests.

"We have sofas, sleeping bags and an endless supply of love. Plus Nutella. #needanaddress #mydubai You're not alone. You're home," resident Faizan Jamal Tweeted.

"This #NeedanAddress thing is awesome. Good going, Dubai," Omar Adam wrote.

Many on Twitter praised the response of fire and emergency services, pointing to the fact that there were no major injuries, though some questioned whether New Year's festivities should have gone ahead.

"Bizarre response of authorities in Dubai. Surely fireworks could have waited till tomorrow?" Sumbal Naqi wrote.

The Dubai government said evacuated guests were being offered alternative accommodation and provided a telephone number to call for assistance.

It published several videos on its Twitter feed of fireworks erupting around the iconic Burj Khalifa and said the New Year's celebration was a testimony to Dubai's "steadfast commitment to its major projects and initiatives".