2 Sharjah fire victims died trying to escape from emergency exit

(MENAFN- Khaleej Times) Two of the five victims who suffocated to death in the Al Butina building fire died as they tried to escape from the 'emergency exit' staircase, investigations have revealed.

Since the 'emergency exit' door was left open, the smoke billowed into the staircase. As the two victims -- a Pakistani woman (40) and an Indian man (35) -- were in the stairwell, they suffocated due to the smoke.

The tragic incident happened in the early hours of Monday ().

The Ministry of Interior said in a statement that the smoke spread to the 'emergency exit' staircase in the building because the exit door was left open "due to human error". This caused suffocation to people coming down from the upper floors.

In some cases, smoke and toxic fumes are more dangerous than flames and can cause death in the absence of requirements to deal with emergency situations.

The ministry urged the public to close the exit doors, which can prevent the smoke spreading into corridors of the building. The civil defence stipulates that the corridors/staircases should be without any obstacles and should not be used for any other purposes.

The ministry statement confirmed that the fire incident -- which also claimed the lives of a Moroccan woman and her two children aged six and four -- was caused by a short-circuit in the window AC of a first-floor flat, five minutes after it was switched on.

Woman in critical condition

Amna Ali Karam, director of Kuwait Hospital in Sharjah, said a Sudanese couple, who were rushed by the police to the emergency department, had inhaled smoke caused by the fire in the apartment. The wife's condition was critical, as she suffers from asthma.

Ahmed Babiker, her husband, said they lived on the third floor of the building. He told Khaleej Times that he was sleeping when he heard screams of people. "I was asleep when loud screams from outside woke me up. I thought it was a fight. I turned the lights on to check what was happening and noticed it was exactly 3am. I smelled fire but hadn't seen anything yet."

He added that when he opened the bedroom's door, he was exposed to heavy smoke. "I immediately rushed to my wife because she suffers from asthma. I found that she was almost unconscious, so I soaked a piece of cloth in water and put it on her," Babiker said.

He said he and his wife tried to escape from the apartment through the staircase, but the heat and darkness prevented them from doing so. They then tried to return to their flat, but in vain. "We couldn't even make it back to our flat. Then we heard the screams of an Arab woman. We both prayed to God because we thought our end was near. We lost consciousness after that," Babiker added.

He said he woke up later at the hospital and was informed that his wife is in the intensive care unit.

Tenants provided shelter

Abdulah Al Muhairi, director of Red Crescent in Sharjah, said they coordinated with the owner of the building to provide shelter to the tenants who were evacuated. The owner agreed to bear the cost of hotel apartments for the affected tenants.

Emirati relives ordeal

An Emirati family, who live in apartment 101 (first floor) where the blaze first broke out, said the fire alarm system in the building was not functioning at the time of the incident.

The woman -- whose husband was not at home -- rushed out of the flat with her two children and her maid, before contacting the civil defence and the police to rush to the help of the other residents of the building.

She said: "I had moved into the first floor apartment over a year ago with my family - my husband and my son (a 3-year-old boy) and an eight-month-old baby, besides our Asian maid."

The woman explained that on the night of the fire, her husband was not at home and she was inside the apartment with her two children and her maid.

Around 12am, she switched on the air conditioner in the bedroom. The maid told her that there was smell of something burning. She searched all the rooms to find out where the smell was emanating from until she discovered it was coming from the AC.

"The AC gave out fume and when I tried to extinguish it, there was a loud noise and thick smoke engulfed the area. I rushed out of the room carrying one of my kids, while the maid carried the baby. I decided to go back to knock on the doors of the neighbouring apartments on the first floor as the fire alarm system was not working. I wanted to evacuate them to safety. But no one responded, which made me go with my maid to the elevator that was not working, either. Then, we used the stairs to get off the first floor as fast as we could. I started screaming loudly to alert the residents of the building.

"After I rushed out of the flat, I immediately went to wake the building watchman up, who turned off the electricity in our apartment. Then I called the police and the civil defence."

She said she had asked the watchman about the fire alarm system, and was told that the device was defective, which prevented fire warning from reaching the rest of the building residents, especially those who lived in the upper floors.

Afkar Abdullah


Khaleej Times

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