International

Blaze rips through Dubai skyscraper The Torch

DUBAI: Panicked residents fled one of the tallest towers in the glitzy Gulf city state of Dubai early on Friday after a fire ripped through it, the second blaze to hit the skyscraper in as many years.

Authorities said no casualties were reported from the blaze which erupted in the middle to upper floors of The Torch, once the tallest residential development in the world.

The 337-metre (1,105-foot) tower was the scene of a 2015 inferno that caused extensive damage to its luxury flats and triggered an evacuation of nearby blocks in the seafront Marina neighbourhood.

Dubai authorities said firefighters arrived at the scene within four minutes of the blaze erupting at 12:45 am (2045 GMT Thursday).

They said residents were immediately evacuated and the fire put out by 2:58 am without any casualties.

Dubai’s civil defence authority said it started on the 65th floor of the luxury tower block.

In the morning, an AFP correspondent saw torched vehicles in the block’s car park and extensive fire damage to the middle and upper storeys of the left side of the building.

“We thank God that there were no casualties, that because of the efforts of all teams on the ground… the residents were evacuated from this building to another one and there were no injuries,” Dubai police commander Major General Abdullah Khalifa al-Marri said.

In January, Dubai announced tougher rules to minimise fire risks after a series of tower blazes in the emirate mostly due to flammable material used in cladding, a covering or coating used on the side of the buildings.

In November 2015, fire engulfed three residential blocks in central Dubai and led to services on a metro line being suspended, although no one was hurt.

On New Year’s Eve that year, 16 people were injured when a fire broke out in a luxury hotel, hours before a massive fireworks display nearby.

Dubai has established a reputation for building dozens of futuristic skyscrapers, which have transformed its skyline.

The city state boasts the world’s tallest building, Burj al-Khalifa, which stands 828 metres (2,700 feet) tall, as well as iconic palm tree-shaped, man-made luxury residential islands.

Saudi Arabia’s Kingdom Holding is building a tower in Jeddah that is planned to surpass the Burj Khalifa, rising more than a kilometre.

Dubai first became a magnet for property investments when it opened the sector to foreigners in 2002, standing out in a region that largely confines freehold ownership to citizens.

The value of property surged at breakneck speed until the global financial crisis hit the debt-laden emirate in 2009, sending prices into free-fall.

A recovery led by tourism, trade and transportation pushed prices up again between 2012 and 2014.

But Dubai’s real estate sector again slowed down, with residential prices dropping around 12 percent in 2015 before slowly starting to climb in 2016.

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