Spate of fires in Sharjah exposes faulty electrics and poor safety awareness

Fire chiefs call for better investment and common sense

SHARJAH , UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - JUNE 26 : Major fire broke out in the warehouse area in Sharjah Industrial area close to the National Paints in Sharjah. Civil Defense personals trying to control the fire.  ( Pawan Singh / The National ) For News. Story by Nawal Al Ramahi
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A spate of major industrial blazes has led to concerns about crumbling buildings and a culture of poor fire safety awareness among workers and business owners.

Faulty electrics, a lack of maintenance and even employees burning rubbish is among the causes of recent incidents.

Civil Defence chiefs said there needs to be greater awareness among the workforce and public about the dangers, particularly in the summer, when temperatures are high and buildings are dry and dusty.

“We see workers in industrial areas throwing away garbage and or leaving it to pile up, leaving it at at risk of catching fire," said Col Sami Khamis Al Naqbi, director general of Sharjah Civil Defence, whose teams fought at least three major blazes that razed buildings to the ground in the past 10 days.

"Sometimes, they even burn the garbage."

Colonel Al Naqbi said there remains a need for an overhaul of safety standards, including harsher penalties for owners that fail to safeguard their buildings, careless workers that cause fires and broader awareness campaigns for the public.

“Negligence is a major cause of fires,” he said.

Crews in Sharjah battled several major blazes in the past week, including a blaze at a garden furniture warehouse that spread to 13 others, destroying most of those. Crews also fought two fires at oil installations. All of the fires were in Sharjah Industrial Area 10.

Fire chiefs have not given a definite cause or apportioned blame, but said broadly more must be done. No lives were lost in any of the industrial accidents, some of which occurred during the Eid holidays when workers were off.

“It is very important owners ensure the quality and efficiency of electric transformers,” Col Al Naqbi added, describing how commonplace such fires are.

Sajed Anthony, from One Technology fire safety & security systems in Sharjah, said poor standards and cheap or counterfeit electrical products are often to blame.

“All these recent incidents indicate that safety measures in factories, warehouses and residential units are not being followed properly," he said.

“Although termed as 'fire accidents', most fires are preventable and negligence is the main cause.

"For instance, improper electrical wiring and overloaded electricity units can lead to fires. This can be eliminated if inspectors visit when buildings are under construction, to ensure that the electrical system is compliant with the international building codes.

"The use of counterfeit electrical products can lead to fires. Or when a home, for example, is more than 20 years old, it may not have the wiring capacity to handle the increased amounts of electrical appliances.”

He added: “Taking proper measures when it comes to training workers who work in industrial areas can reduce fires too. Also, warning systems, smoke detectors, fire extinguishers and automatic sprinklers must exist in every residential and industrial building.

Factory and warehouse owners who fail to abide by safety measures can be fined, according to ministerial resolution No 213 of 2017, though the risk of being convicted of causing a death could hold a much greater punishment.

Colonel Al Naqbi also said the service sees a spike in the number of cars that burst into flames in the summers.

“Most vehicle fires are due to high temperatures in the summer that affect the engine. I advise drivers them to perform regular maintenance on their vehicles, especially with regards to engine, fuel and oil change. Poor maintenance and overheating engines are among the main causes of car fires, he said.

“And motorists must carry a extinguisher in their vehicle."