A fire swept through an apartment building in the Al Murar area of Dubai’s historic Deira neighborhood, killing at least 16 people and injuring nine others. The fire broke out on Saturday, April 16, and is believed to have started in an apartment shared by multiple individuals, a common practice for laborers in Dubai. The building’s tight quarters, often subdivided by makeshift barriers of plywood, drywall, or shower curtains, posed a major risk in the event of a fire.
The Dubai Civil Defense issued a statement giving the death toll, but authorities did not respond to questions from the Associated Press. Naseer Vatanappally, a Dubai-based businessman who volunteers with the Indian Consulate on repatriation issues, said the dead were identified as six Sudanese, four Indians, three Pakistanis, a Cameroonian, an Egyptian, and a Jordanian. Police are working to process paperwork to send the remains of the dead back to their homelands.
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif expressed his condolences to the bereaved families and directed Pakistan’s Mission in the UAE to extend support to the affected families. On Sunday, char marks could be seen on the five-story apartment building, which is home to a grocery store, a smoke shop, and other businesses on its ground floor. The building is also located just 2 miles from Dubai International Airport along its flight path.
A man working nearby at the time of the blaze put the start of the fire at just after noon on Saturday. He told the AP that there had been an explosion, like from a gas cylinder catching fire, followed by thick black smoke. That corresponded with videos posted to social media of the flames shooting out of the apartment as firetrucks arrived at the scene on Saturday, with at least one person inside the building waving a white shirt from a balcony to signal rescuers.
The Dubai Civil Defense statement described the fire as starting on the fourth floor, but the char marks could be seen on the fifth floor, where glass appeared to have been blown out by the blaze. “Preliminary investigations showed that lack of compliance with building security and safety requirements caused the fire,” the statement said. “Relevant authorities are conducting a comprehensive investigation to provide a detailed report on the causes of the” fire.
The building’s management declined to answer any questions when reached by the AP, citing the ongoing police investigation. It wasn’t immediately clear who owned the building. Dubai has faced a spate of high-rise fires in recent years, fueled by flammable siding material. However, other fires at warehouses and smaller structures can strike, particularly in the summer when temperatures top 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit).
Illegal apartment partitioning has been a problem in Dubai for decades, worsened when the city-state sees real estate booms and economic growth like it now is experiencing. Authorities have launched crackdowns in the past, but landlords persist in offering partitioned apartments as workers from Africa, Asia and the Mideast try to save every penny to send back home. The fire is a tragic reminder of the risks associated with cramped living conditions and non-compliance with safety standards.