Why no one died in Dubai skyscraper fire

Dubai Torch tower fire: Witnesses said that the quick actions of the city’s civil defense and police departments led to a safe, orderly evacuation of residents.

Kamran Jebreili/AP Photo
Fire damage is seen on high floors of the Torch Tower after it was extinguished at Dubai's Marina district Saturday, Feb. 21. The 86-story Torch Tower, one of the world's tallest residential towers, caught fire early Saturday, sending bright yellow flames several stories high, but there were no reports of casualties, civil defense officials said.

A fire that ripped through a luxury residential tower in Dubai’s Marina district early Saturday morning engulfed several stories and displaced hundreds, but caused no casualties, according to multiple news reports.

A number of people were treated for minor injuries by ambulances at the scene, The Associated Press reported.

The blaze, which broke out around 2 a.m. in the 86-story Torch tower building, appeared to have started on the 50th floor, according to CNN. High winds fanned the flames and scattered debris on nearby streets. 

First responders evacuated residents before turning their attention on the fire, which took 12 fire engines and several hours to put out, the BBC reported.

James and Ann Saunders, tenants on the 36th floor, said that the evacuation of the building was completed within 20-25 minutes. Al Atawi, a 36-year-old Egyptian, told Gulf News that his concern was the safety of his wife and 11-month-old baby when the building’s security guards began to knock on each apartment door to alert them.

“Security guards knocked on our doors several times after the alarms started ringing so we got dressed to leave,” he said. “I couldn’t think of anything else other than my wife and child’s safety, so I grabbed our passports and just left. I left my phone upstairs and we headed to the exit.

Al Atawi spoke of the several drills and false alarms that take place throughout the year at The Torch which left them doubting the veracity of the fire alarm that, he says, went off at 2am.

“We usually have these false alarms so, when I heard this one, I thought I’ll just carry on sleeping because it was probably nothing,” he said. But for some reason, he says, he decided to check from his balcony to assure himself that everything was all right. “I found police cars and people standing downstairs so that was my signal to exit the building.”

Fire crews, working their way outward to the street from the fire’s origin, used water lines and pumps inside the tower to kill the flames, according to the Khaleej Times, a popular English news outlet in Dubai.

Both on the scene and on social media, local authorities and firefighters were lauded for their quick response.

"I was really surprised they got it under control pretty quickly," Torch resident RJ Morlock of Houston, Texas told the AP. "It looked like it was going to go up."

Residents were anxious as they were evacuated, but the fire brigades handled the situation well, Mr. Morlock said.

Mehdi Ansari, another resident, told NBC News that flames covered 10 to 15 stories of the 1,100-foot tower, but that the escape from the burning building was calm and orderly.

"The firefighters did well. They were pretty quick, they organized people, got them out, gave them water and found others," he said.

On Twitter, the hashtag #TorchTower has been used to report developments and praise the efforts of fire crews.

A local reporter dubbed the Dubai Civil Defense, police department, and ambulance service "heroes" for their work.

One user applauded them for preventing any casualties, while another snapped a photo of one fire warden in action.

Skyscrapers pose unique challenges to fire crews, since the average fire hose can only spray up to about 50 feet – too low for any high-rise building and a fraction of the Torch. To fight fires at great heights, skyscrapers are designed with fire-resistant features, such as doors that shut automatically when a fire is detected or barriers that are built to slow fires. 

A rule of thumb for high-rise construction is that "any outbreak should be able to burn itself out without external intervention, and without the building collapsing, allowing for the evacuation of occupants above and below the fire," according to an article in The Independent.

The cause of the Torch fire is still under investigation, but Dubai police chief Maj. Gen. Khamis Mattar al-Muzeina said in a statement that there is no evidence of foul play.

A cleanup operation is underway, and Kingfield Owner Association Management Services, which manages the Torch, is providing temporary shelter and supplies for displaced residents until they can return home.

Dubai's fire safety systems and procedures have been tested in recent years - and been relatively successful. In November 2012, all residents were safely evacuated from a 34-story residential tower when fire broke out. And in June of the same year, hundreds of residents were evacuated safely from a 76-story tower after a fire broke out on the 36th floor, reported the Associated Press.

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