Dubai Zen Tower fire: Tenants angry and in limbo after blaze

Residents struggle to contact building owner and have no money or passports

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES. 14 MAY 2018. Zen Tower fire in the Marina. Fire damage. (Photo: Antonie Robertson/The National) Journalist: Nicke Webster. Section: National.
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Confusion turned to anger on Monday as residents of Zen Tower were left with unanswered questions as to when they may be allowed back into the fire-ravaged building to salvage possessions.

Strong winds whipped up flames that engulfed the Dubai Marina residential block on Sunday morning, causing damage to the first five floors in particular. Many more levels are likely to have suffered smoke damage.

As police held a firm border restricting access to the burnt-out building in Dubai Marina, hotels continued offering temporary accommodation to those affected.

Scottish hairdresser Shelley Douglas, 31, lives on the seventh floor with her cousin and was at a health and safety course when the fire broke out.

“I’ve lost iPads, iPhones, jewellery and clothes – everything,” she said.

“I’ve been trying to call the facility manager and [Dubai regulatory agency] Rera to find out what we have to do, but no one is answering my calls.

“Everyone is confused and it is hugely frustrating.

“My cousin is travelling tomorrow and has lost everything he owns, he has no passport and has lost all his camera equipment.”

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES. 14 MAY 2018. Zen Tower fire in the Marina. Resident Shelly Douglas. (Photo: Antonie Robertson/The National) Journalist: Nicke Webster. Section: National.
Shelley Douglas fears she lost most of her belongings in the fire. Antonie Robertson / The National

Prateek, 31, owns a flat on the second floor where he has lived with his wife and mother since October 2016. He is among 130 people staying at the Ghaya Grand Hotel in Sports City.

“I need to get hold of my passports and medicines for my wife,” he said.

“We’ve had hardly any information, and the building management has not been responding to my calls.

“I’ve heard that we will be given food and accommodation for three days, but that’s it. I’ve no idea what we will do next. It has been very confusing.”


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The National tried to contact the Zen Tower facility manager, but like many residents was unable to reach him.

The Ghaya Grand Hotel in Sports City was the first hotel to offer temporary accommodation to residents, with buses arriving to shuttle them within two hours of the start of the fire.

A similar gesture was offered by the Al Fey Road hotel when The Torch residential tower caught fire in 2017.

“The calmer you are to help these people get away and into somewhere clean and safe for two or three days, the better it is for everyone,” said Olwin Desouza, general manager of the hotel.

“Our job is to serve the community, and these people needed our help. This could have happened to any of us.

“Our managers have been in this situation before, so they knew how to handle those residents who were upset and crying.”

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES. 14 MAY 2018. Zen Tower fire in the Marina. Fire damage. (Photo: Antonie Robertson/The National) Journalist: Nicke Webster. Section: National.
Zen Tower on Monday. Antonie Robertson / The National

Mr Desouza heard of the fire on social media at around 11am, and asked his team to arrange for buses to collect the scores of residents on the street outside the still-smouldering Zen Tower.

Some residents said they were led to believe their free stay would last two days, after which they will have to leave or start paying.

One said: "There have been so many fires recently in these residential buildings, but people still don’t know their rights and where they stand legally when things go wrong."

They said neither they nor police appeared to know who owned the building or "who we should be speaking to".

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES. 14 MAY 2018. Zen Tower fire in the Marina. Hotel Manager Agusti Curto Calbet looks at goods donated by the public that are being collected at the Wyndham Hotel. (Photo: Antonie Robertson/The National) Journalist: Nicke Webster. Section: National.
Wyndham hotel manager Agusti Curto Calbet pictured with bags of clothes that have been donated to victims of the fire. Antonie Robertson / The National

One hotel, the nearby Wyndham Dubai Marina, has been accepting donations of clothes, bed linen and non-perishable goods to offer those who have lost possessions in the fire.

The hotel has since offered to share the load with the Ghaya Grand Hotel, and take on some of the residents that were moved there, as well as offering free meals.

“I was in my office when I was told of the fire; I thought this can’t be possible as it is so close to our hotel,” said hotel manager Agusti Curto Calbet.

“It was a very complicated situation, two or three hours of chaos. I had to physically go to the street and tell the police and civil defence that we wanted to help.”

The hotel has so far received more than 20 bags of donated items.

“The people were very confused. They had no ID or personal belongings and did not know what was going to happen next,” Mr Calbet said.

“We are all expats in this country, so the help from us was important - it is for as long as they need.

“This is not the easiest time of year to give over hotel rooms, because of Ramadan.

“We’ve done our bit and have been happy to contribute.

“I’m sure most other hotels faced the same issues as us, they didn’t know how to help and it was very difficult to communicate.”