Fires in Egypt cause alarm after historic film studio burns down

Ten people were injured in the Cairo studio blaze, which burned for four hours and damaged nearby apartment buildings

A worker at the scene of a fire that destroyed Al Ahram Studio in Cairo. Reuters
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A spate of fires across several Egyptian provinces over the past week has created alarm among the population.

Egyptian government statements say the blazes were largely caused by electrical short circuits. This is a common cause of fires in Egypt where unregulated construction results in badly wired homes.

The largest blaze happened at dawn on Saturday in Cairo at Al Ahram Studio, one of the country’s most important film locations.

Ten people were injured, according to a report by Giza’s municipal prosecutors, including two firefighters who were climbing a crane to put out the flames when it collapsed.

The fire, which burned for more than four hours, destroyed the historic studio, which opened in 1944.

Witnesses say the blaze damaged sets from popular Egyptian films and television series which had been stored there, and caused significant damage to 10 neighbouring apartment buildings.

The cause of the fire has not yet been determined, despite Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly announcing the launch of investigations after he visited the site on Saturday.

Speaking from the scene, Mr Madbouly said he would give 15,000 Egyptian pounds ($319) to each person whose home was damaged by the fire.

“The fire erupted from multiple sides of the studio and burned every building inside. I watched it spread from my balcony. Within minutes, the whole neighbourhood was in chaos and people were running and screaming,” said Hassan Abdou, 38, who lives in Al Omraneya, the densely populated Cairo neighbourhood where the studio is located.

“Pretty soon it had spread to building after building and the firemen were finding it difficult to put it out. We could hear the screams and the commotion well into the late morning.”

Spate of blazes

The Al Ahram Studio fire is one of many to have broken out across the country recently.

They began last Tuesday with a blaze on the banks of the Nile near the Cairo district of Maadi. The fire was caused by a passer-by throwing a burning cigarette butt into a garden, according to a statement from Cairo’s municipal government on Thursday. No injuries were reported.

حريق هائل الآن في احد الكافتيريات أمام مستشفى النيل بدراوي كورنيش المعادي، تقريبا من الألعاب النارية. المطافي مش عارفة...

Posted by Mona Abdelrady on Tuesday, 12 March 2024

On Sunday, the day after the Al Ahram Studio fire, a similar-sized blaze broke out at a shopping centre in the affluent district of New Cairo.

It started on the fourth storey of the mall, inside a restaurant which was almost entirely consumed by the flames, a police official told The National.

The cause, according to a police investigation, was an electrical short circuit inside the restaurant.

The fire also damaged banks located in the mall, according to the police report.

Also on Sunday, a large fire was put out at a wood factory in Beni Suef province, about 150km south of Cairo. The cause is still being determined, according a statement from the Beni Suef municipality.

On Monday, one person was injured when a set caught fire in the Egyptian Media Production City, a complex near Cairo that houses some of the country’s largest television and radio studios.

A police report said the fire was caused by an electrical short circuit that set ablaze wooden set pieces which had been doused in paint thinner in preparation for a television scene that was being filmed that day.

An electrical short circuit also caused another fire, at a hotel near the Giza pyramids on Monday, according to a separate police report.

The Al Jawhara’s 40 guests, who included 25 foreign nationals, were evacuated, the report said.

Another large fire was reported on Tuesday night at a furniture showroom in the Egyptian Nile Delta city of Damietta. A police report blamed an electrical short circuit.

Other smaller fires have also been reported since last week, including one at the offices of a food manufacturer in Giza on Monday.

Speculation over causes

Social media speculation has blamed the fires on arson.

Some users have suggested Egyptians struggling with the cost of living are lighting the fires in protest, without providing evidence.

Facebook user Mona Fouad speculated: “These people who are burning and ruining the country must be regular people who can’t deal with the high prices any more.”

There were also unsubstantiated claims that the fires could have been lit by extremist groups who had launched attacks in Cairo previously.

“I thought we had dealt with our terrorism problem, does this mean we haven’t?” wondered talk show host Osama Gaweesh during a Monday live-stream on X.

There were several church fires in 2022. The largest blaze, at the Abu Seifein Church in Giza, killed 41 Egyptian Copts who were attending a morning service.

The government said those fires were caused by electrical short circuits, amid widespread speculation they may have been deliberately lit to target Egypt's Christian minority.

Updated: March 21, 2024, 6:41 AM