Hundreds of Sharjah tenants watched from the streets as firefighters battled a huge blaze that gutted their 48-storey building on Tuesday night.
Flames spread through Abbco Tower in Al Nahda shortly after smoke alarms sounded in the building's 300-plus apartments.
Some families thought the alarms at 9pm were a drill until they saw flames and debris outside their own windows.
Vehicles parked outside were damaged when debris crashed onto them.
Seven people were treated at the scene for smoke inhalation, the emergency services said.
“I heard fire alarms but thought it was a drill,” said Syrian Fadlallah Hassoun, 30, who lives on the 15th floor.
"Then when I heard sirens and screams I looked outside and saw neighbours running down the stairs from the emergency exit."
Mr Hassoun ran back into his flat and rescued his cat, which was hiding under the bed.
"I had to break the drawer under my bed to get her out, then picked up my mobile phone and ran down the stairs," he said.
Mr Hassoun left all of his possessions behind, including passport and ID.
Nigerian resident Natasha Abu Bakir, 19, was watching a film in her apartment on the 21st floor when one of her neighbours screamed “fire, fire.”
“I asked my neighbours what was happening but it was chaos," Ms Abu Bakir said.
"They said the fire started in the lower floors and was spreading fast.
“I was scared and didn’t have time so I picked up my passport and left."
A family of four sat on the pavement nearly three streets away from the building and demanded greater support from their landlord.
They had lived on the 18th floor for eight years and said this was the second fire there after a smaller blaze in May 2016.
“We lost everything in our apartment, everything," said the Egyptian mother, who asked not to be identified.
"Now we are waiting to know what will happen to us.
“It was a disaster. Smoke started coming into our flat from under the window. It felt as if it was coming through the walls."
Christian Fausto, 36, from the Philippines, lives in the adjacent building to Abbco Tower. He heard the sound of windows cracking outside due to the heat.
He gathered his wife, their son aged 4 and their 7-month-old baby, and ran outside with a small case of essentials.
“It’s my birthday today and we were about to eat in celebration when we saw the fire growing bigger, and saw debris falling and windows cracking,” Mr Fausto said.
Police received a report of the fire about 9pm and the first crews were on the scene in six minutes, officers said.
Police and Civil Defence said they used drones to scan the tall building to ensure no one was trapped.
Several neighbouring buildings were evacuated as a precaution.
“Tenants were evacuated before the fire spread, which helped to avoid any serious injuries,” Sharjah Civil Defence chief Col Sami Al Naqbi said.
“Arrangements are now under way to provide housing for the tenants."
Crowds of displaced tenants gathered in the park opposite the building, where Emirates Red Crescent volunteers wrote down their names to arrange for their temporary housing.
Municipality staff and Red Crescent workers handed out water and juice to tenants while hotel accommodation was arranged.