Dubai fire: Tributes paid to devoted parents killed in blaze

Relatives tell of anguish as they organise last rites and repatriation of bodies

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A deadly fire in a Dubai residential building on Saturday claimed the lives of doting fathers and a loving single mother who were the primary providers for their families.

Dubai residents told of the heartache and pain the fatal fire had brought for families who depended on the men and women killed in the fire.

Sixteen people were killed and nine injured when a blaze erupted on the fourth floor of an apartment block in Deira, a crowded Dubai neighbourhood, on Saturday afternoon.

Three Pakistani men, a Cameroonian single mother and an Egyptian father were the sole breadwinners of their families.

We have cried all our tears. This is a shock and very heavy for my family to bear
Alain Awunglefac on losing his 28-year-old sister Nicoline Abinkeng

Witnesses and those who escaped from the blaze reported hearing a blast. They said thick smoke that quickly filled the corridor on the top floor made it difficult for residents to escape.

Dubai Civil Defence authorities are investigating the cause of the fire. Preliminary investigations indicate that poor safety standards and a lack of compliance with security standards caused the fire, according to authorities.

Four Indians, three Pakistanis, six Sudanese, one Cameroonian, one Egyptian and one Jordanian, were killed in the fire.

‘I still hear them screaming for help’

Relatives in Dubai have spent the past few days completing the documentation and clearances required to send the bodies of their loved ones home.

The bodies of the three Pakistani men — Muhammad Bilal, Umar Farooq and Muhammad Sajjad — reached their families on Tuesday.

Friends posted videos on Facebook showing hundreds of mourners gathered outside their homes in Dera Ghazi Khan, in south-west Pakistan, to accompany the bodies to the funeral ground.

Each of the men had three to four children and large families who depended on them, said Mohammed Jamil, a cousin who lived in the same building.

“Telling our families that they died in a fire has been the worst thing I have had to do,” said Mr Jamil, who had a lucky escape as he was praying in a nearby mosque.

“Their children depend on them. They came here to work hard for a good life for their families and now there is nothing.

“We are there for their families but it is not the same.”

Minutes before the fire began, he chatted with his cousin Mr Bilal who wanted to rest for a while.

The accident has scarred Mr Jamil who was on the phone with the men as the flames engulfed the floor they were trapped on.

“I keep crying. I cannot stop crying. I still hear them yelling and screaming, asking us to help,” Mr Jamil said.

“Bilal called me saying, ‘There is a fire, save us.’

“I could do nothing, we were not allowed to go in.”

Police and fire officials cordoned off the building for the safety of residents and onlookers who gathered in an open space in front as the fire raged on Saturday.

On Tuesday, red and white security tape remains stretched around the perimeter.

The top floor balconies are blackened and charred, with the metal railings melted by the intensity of the blaze.

On the lower floor balconies, rows of clothes remain spread across drying lines.

'Everything is gone'

Residents had fled their homes, leaving doors and windows thrown open.

They have since been permitted to enter their residences to gather essentials.

“Everything is gone, they are no more. What will I do with my luggage when we don’t have them,” Mr Jamil said.

“We would sit for hours and hours and talk. They always helped people who were new to Dubai.”

Mr Bilal and Umar Farooq worked in a project management company and Mr Sajjad was employed by an air-conditioner repair firm.

They had worked in Dubai for more than 12 years.

Relatives in Pakistan have shared photographs of the men on Facebook and videos taken of them sharing iftar in the UAE.

“Dua karo (please pray for them)”, says one post.

Young mother with big dreams

A grieving brother said his younger sister’s aspirations for her family were snatched away by the tragedy.

Nicoline Abinkeng, 28, did not go into work on Saturday as she was upset after hearing that her father in Cameroon needed to go to hospital with a stomach ailment.

“She was crying the whole night on Friday and could not go to work on Saturday because she was just too troubled,” said Alain Awunglefac, her brother.

Ms Abinkeng was a chef who worked in a restaurant serving West African cuisine. She had lived in Dubai for seven years.

A single mother, she had a 13-year-old daughter who was being looked after by a sister at home.

“She was supposed to go to work and if she went to work that day, she would have been safe,” Mr Awunglefac said.

“Nicky was lying in bed when a friend rushed in and said they had to leave because of a fire.”

She shared a room with six other girls, one of whom was in the room with her.

Two other friends from Cameroon managed to escape by jumping down to floors below but they lost her in the fire.

“The others got injured in the fall and some got burnt, but they are alive. My sister did not make it,” he said.

“Her biggest dream was to work hard and save for her daughter and our parents.

“She was so popular and was the best chef.

“We have cried all our tears. This is a shock and something that is very heavy for my family to bear.”

A devoted father

Walid El Gamal, 51, an Egyptian father-of-three, was due to start work as a Dubai cab driver after Eid.

Mr Gamal leaves behind children aged nine, seven and three. He worked in Kuwait for 20 years, and Egypt, before moving to the UAE to search for work last year.

His family suspect that he died as he was asleep in a room shared with friends who were not in the building when the fire broke out.

“He got his new residency. He had a new job and had completed his training with the RTA,” said Radwan Haitham, Mr Gamal’s brother-in-law.

“Walid was so happy. He was very intelligent and kind. He had big dreams to work and continue his life for his family in Dubai.”

Mr Haitham said his sister in Egypt spoke to her husband daily and was anxious when calls went unanswered on Saturday.

“I told her it may be network or battery issues,” he said.

“I asked his friends, ‘Where is Walid?’, and that is when we heard of the fire.

“Now I’m focused on getting the paperwork done and sending his body to Egypt.

“This is too hard for my sister and his family. It is too difficult for us.”

Updated: April 18, 2023, 5:51 PM