Abu Dhabi police quiz property boss over fatal blaze

Brother says he sublet space to 15 firms

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ABU DHABI // The director of an Abu Dhabi property company was being questioned by police yesterday in connection with the fire at a makeshift labour camp in which four workers were killed, his brother said.

StarMark Real Estate and General Maintenance, which has been operating in the UAE for about five years, rented the Musaffah warehouse from a landlord and sublet space to 15 companies that used it to house their workers, the brother said.

Emergency crews were called to the warehouse at just after 5.50am on Thursday after the blaze tore through part of the building.

Most of the 400 labourers, who slept 10 to a room, had been working at the time of the fire, but those who died had been on a break.

"They all went to work at 4.30am," said a 27-year-old Bangladeshi worker. "After they heard, they all rushed back."

The victims, three of whom were from Nepal and one from Bangladesh, had been living in the same room. The fifth man, also from Pakistan, was taken to hospital. Initial inquiries suggest the fire was caused by an electrical fault.

Abu Dhabi Civil Defence said the building had been modified into a two-storey labour camp. "There were no fire alarms, no sprinklers, and no fire extinguishers," some of the workers said yesterday.

"Nobody expected this to happen," said the brother of the director. "That's why the measures were not in place."

Two fire hoses near the front and rear exits had been used to fight the flames, said one of the workers, who have not yet been moved from the partly burnt-out warehouse.

The director general of Abu Dhabi Civil Defence, Col Mohammed Abdullah Al Nuaimi, issued a statement on Thursday warning against illegally dividing warehouses into labour accommodation, because of the risk of fire from the use of electrical extension cords.

The four men who died had been housed temporarily while they waited to move into accommodation at the nearby Industrial City of Abu Dhabi (ICAD). They had been forced to move into the warehouse after swipe cards for entry to the ICAD housing took too long to process, said one worker. Workers said there had been previous problems with utilities at the warehouse.

"A month ago, there was no electricity for three days," one said.

Workers whose companies have not yet moved them to alternative accommodation have had no electricity or water since the fire.

"Two days of nothing. No water. How to cook?" said a labourer who works for Trans Atlas Construction.

"There is no help," said a worker from another company. "There has been no manager in two days."

No one from Trans Atlas would comment.

Most of the men, several of whom are fasting, have received no food or water from their employers since the blaze.

"The whole night we spent outside," said one worker, who had broken his fast because of the fire. "No water, no food, no help. We can't cook without water."

"All my clothes have burnt," said another.

"I paid Dh300 for my room on August 1," said a worker. "Then it burned down. There is no help."

A spokesman for Abu Dhabi Police would not confirm whether the property company director was being questioned and said further details of the investigation would be released in the coming days.