Hundreds evacuated as fire breaks out at Abu Dhabi construction site

Construction workers tell of a huge fire at a building near the Beach Rotana hotel in the capital.

According to a construction worker, the fire at the under-construction building by the Beach Rotana hotel started at about 10.30am. Christopher Pike / The National
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ABU DHABI // Thirteen people were injured and hundreds of workers and hotel guests moved to safety when fire broke out in an unfinished building in Al Zahiyah on Tuesday.

Thick smoke billowed from the building next to the Beach Rotana, with Civil Defence helicopters circling, after the fire was reported about 10.50am.

Emergency responders said workers were rescued after being surrounded by flames. Most of the injured, 10 of whom were firefighters, had mild cases of smoke inhalation.

“Occupants of the neighbouring building were taken to a temporary shelter provided by the Emirates Red Crescent,’’ said Col Mohammed Al Ansari, director general of Abu Dhabi Civil Defence.

Mohammed Marouf, 34, who was working on the 8th floor of the 25-floor tower being built by the Ghantoot Group, said he had been badly scared by the blaze.

“Today I know what it is be afraid of death,” Mr Marouf said.

The Bangladeshi, who has worked on the building for more than two months, said he and fellow workers began to leave when smoke started to engulf them.

“I’ve seen fires on construction sites before but nothing like this,” said Mr Marouf, who has worked in Abu Dhabi for more than 25 years.

Video courtesy Shanavas Pulickal

Another Bangladeshi, Bilal Al Din, 37, said: “I was working on the ground floor and you could see smoke coming from the floors above us.”

Abu Dhabi Police cordoned off the nearby area, including the bridge leading to Al Maryah Island, as debris fell from the sides of the buildings.

Almost six hours after the fire began firefighters were still battling flames and smoke with water cannon on cranes, and emergency vehicles were still arriving at the scene.

The Beach Rotana closed as a result of the blaze but no damage was reported there.

“As a safety measure the entire hotel has been evacuated and guests were transferred to other properties of the hotel, hotel apartments and Abu Dhabi Mall,” a staff member said.

“The closure was ordered by Abu Dhabi Civil Defence this morning and we can’t say now when it will be opened. If anybody has prebooked they will be accommodated in the adjacent Beach Rotana hotel apartments.”

But the staff member said the hotel was not taking new bookings for the time being.

A safety manager from a nearby building site said he decided to check out the situation when he saw the smoke.

Gideon Ataya said the most common cause of construction site fires was poor housekeeping, although he admitted he did not know what caused yesterday’s blaze.

Sparks from grinding, flames from welding or burning cigarettes could all ignite uncleared debris, he said.

“I recently told a site manager he needed to clean up his site but he said he didn’t have the time,” Mr Ataya said. “He finally got around to it and I told him that one day of cleaning could have saved you one year and millions of dirhams.”

After this fire he said a long and expensive process involving assessment and air-quality tests would follow.

Weekly, if not daily, clean-ups should take place at construction sites, he said.

“People should not think fires can’t happen at their sites – it could happen anywhere,” Mr Ataya said.

Col Al Ansari said the cause of the blaze was being investigated, and warned people to follow fire prevention requirements at construction sites.

No one at the Ghantoot Group was available for comment.