Life-saving action by fire heroes as Dubai building engulfed by flames

With video: The bravery of two men averts disaster after a fire ripped through the upper portions of a 13-storey building in the Tecom area.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Oct 06, 2012 - Saif Belhasa building after a fire in Tecom. ( Jaime Puebla / The National Newspaper )
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DUBAI // Two men risked death yesterday to save the lives of dozens of people fleeing a fire that was ripping through a 13-storey building in Tecom.

Most of the assembled onlookers could only watch in shock and disbelief as burning debris fell from the upper floors of the Saif Belhasa building when the blaze broke out shortly after 9am.

But while everyone else focused on the top of the building, where the fire had spread to soon after breaking out on the fourth floor, Adil Qamar and a fellow tenant realised the most immediate danger lay elsewhere - the parked cars on which the fiery wreckage was falling.

"There was a burning panel under my car and I was dead sure it would explode," said Mr Qamar, a 38-year-old father of three from Pakistan.

"It would have been a worse disaster because there were so many people around and the tank was full.

"Everybody was focused on the building but this caught my attention and I saw the other guy trying to enter his car too.

"I could see smoke and fire from the bottom of my car and I was afraid it would explode in minutes."

Both men were unable to reach the cars on their first attempt as they were repelled by a shower of embers, twisted metal rods and sheets that smashed onto the streets

"The second time I was lucky; I got in and moved the car away from all the people; the other guy did the same," said Mr Qamar.

Burns and blisters scarred his hands and the black T-shirt he wore was singed and scorched from the falling debris.

"My wife was naturally very scared. But it was a small risk to take because those vehicles could have exploded," said the chief financial officer. "Luckily we were successful."

While Mr Qamar was saving lives down below, firemen were evacuating several residents who had become trapped on the 13th floor.

"There was thick, black smoke everywhere, it was difficult to breathe and there were these guys on the 13th floor waving out for help," said Kasi Mitha, a tenant. "The firemen guided everyone down."

Some residents had ignored the fire alarm, believing it to be a hoax. Others were too scared to leave.

"I heard the noise and smelled the smoke, but I was too scared to come down because I didn't know what I would find on the stairs," said Hala Chawa, a mother of two teenagers and a five-month-old infant, who followed the firemen down.

Civil Defence officials said more than 300 people were evacuated from the building and there were no injuries.

Several cars dented and damaged by the smouldering debris were towed away.

The blaze was extinguished at about 11am, after which many residents who had earlier escaped down smoke-filled staircases returned to find their apartments were blackened, unliveable shells.

Most residents gave thanks it was the weekend and they were home to help evacuate their family.

"People sleeping were woken up and on another day the children would have been home without us," said Mustafa Amiro, a resident. "It could have been much worse."