By Noah Browning
Fire engulfed a 63-storey skyscraper in Dubai on Thursday night, but with the block evacuated and only minor injuries reported authorities went ahead with a New Year’s fireworks display at the world’s tallest building a few hundred metres away.
Tongues of flame shot skywards from one side of the luxury Address Downtown Dubai hotel and residential block, which stands across a plaza from the 160-storey Burj Khalifa tower where people had gathered for fireworks to mark the New Year.
Television pictures showed pieces of blazing debris raining down from The Address as evacuated occupants hurried away from the building, some running.
“We came out on my balcony to look at the Burj. All the buildings around here had fireworks prepped on the roof,” Paul Mithun, a U.S. consultant in downtown Dubai said.
“We were like, huh, that looks like a little Olympic torch off in the distance. We thought someone lit fireworks. In under two minutes, the fire went up two-thirds of the length of the hotel. I watched the whole thing. It was real bad.”
But as midnight struck, with the Address building continuing to burn, onlookers cheered as a swirling mass of multicoloured fireworks enveloped the Burj Khalifa.
The Dubai government’s media office said the Address blaze was 90 percent under control. Police chief Major General Khamis Matar told Al Arabiya television: “All residents of the hotel were evacuated and there are 14 injured, with light injuries.”
A medic on the scene who declined to be identified told Reuters: “There are more than 60 people injured with light injuries from smoke inhalation and from crowding while in the stairs evacuating the building.”
One resident staying on the 15th floor of the tower, completed in 2008, told Britain’s Sky News of “absolute pandemonium” as those inside realised the building was ablaze.
“The alarms went off when the building was already properly on fire,” he said.
FIREWORKS GO AHEAD
A Reuters correspondent saw police evacuating a viewing area near the base of the Burj Khalifa.
The fire at the Address building had take hold in minutes.
“Oh my God!” shouted one witness who happened to see the first few moments.
“The flames were running up one side of the building, reaching about halfway up … Flames were licking upwards and out. Orange and yellow,” the witness said.
As the evacuation proceeded, there were moments of panic.
“There’s more shouting. It’s more panicked this time, many voices, some screams,” the witness said.
The Dubai media office said the blaze had started on the 20th floor, on the outside of the 300-metre tower, and that internal fire-fighting systems were operating to try to prevent it getting inside the hotel.
Four fire brigade teams were at the site.
Dubai is a trade, tourism and investment hub for the Gulf region, and is one of seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates (UAE).