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Towering inferno: escaping from the Torch tower

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An eye-witness account of the fire which destroyed 100 of the 676 flats in Dubai’s Torch tower - once the world’s tallest residential building

At around 1.49am on Saturday 21 February, while residents slept, a fire swept through the Torch tower in Dubai’s Marina district.

Designed by Dubai-based Khatib & Alami, the 79-storey tower was the tallest residential building in the world when it opened in 2011. A year later the title was handed over to the Princess Tower directly across the street.

However the building is still the 32nd tallest building in the world, popular with ex-patriots, with two-bed flats costing upwards of $500,000 (£325,000).

Andrew Rankin, a 28-year-old marketing manager at the AJ’s sister publication MEED, and his partner Phillippa Batt, 26 slept in their 51st floor flat. The apartment was next to one of the ‘offending balconies’ which caught fire.

As winds of up to 50 mph swirled around the building, the blaze spread down the building.

The alarm, which began around 2am, did not immediately worry Rankin and Batt. The building, where Rankin has lived for the past three and a half years, has had a number of false alarms.

‘We heard it, but lay in bed for about five minutes, until we heard the sirens below and realised that the alarm should’ve stopped,’ he said. ‘We got up to look out of the window and the first thing I saw was the reflection of the flames on the glass of the building across from us’.

Realising what was happening, Rankin and Batt made their way down 51 flights of stairs, taking 20 minutes to manoeuvre the stairwell crammed with other fleeing residents.

Due to the strong wind on the night, the blaze was fanned around the 336m skyscraper, causing other sections to set alight.

Burning material detached from the building and fell to the ground making the evacuation even more difficult.

‘We expecting to leave quickly,’ Rankin continued. ‘Instead we got to the lobby and were met with an orderly queue. We could see little embers floating down from above, and we were slowly ushered out of the building to a safe distance in between bits of falling shrapnel. Once we were out, that was it. We were just left to stand and watch’.

No-one was injured in the fire, but hundreds of residents have been left homeless, with more than 100 of the 676 apartments in the complex currently uninhabitable.

Residents were briefly able to return to their homes last Sunday (22 February) to collect important belongings. But the Dubai Civil Defence (DCD) has yet to fully evaluate the damage.

For now, Rankin and Batt are staying in temporary accommodation in a hotel, with ‘quite a few unknowns’ to deal with before they are able to return permanently.

In November 2012, a fire gutted the 34-storey residential Tamweel Tower in the Jumeirah Lake Towers development of Dubai, leaving it anuninhabitable shell. Renovations have yet to begin on the tower.

‘I was around in Dubai in 2012 when the Tamweel fire happened,’ Rankin added. ‘It’s your worst nightmare when you live in a high rise. We couldn’t believe it’.


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Readers' comments (1)

  • Rankin and Batt, like the other residents, were very lucky. Thanks for sharing the horror of their story.

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