DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES – Fire engulfed a luxury building near the world’s tallest skyscraper in Dubai on Thursday as tens of thousands of people were gathering at its base for one of the world’s largest New Year’s fireworks displays.
The Dubai Media Office said 14 people had been lightly injured and that one suffered a heart attack due to the smoke and overcrowding during evacuation. The statement said another person was moderately injured, without elaborating further. No children were among those injured.
Burning debris rained down from the building as firetrucks raced to the scene. It was not immediately clear what caused the fire, which ran up the 63-story building. The Address Downtown Dubai is a 991 foot-tall (302-meter) skyscraper that has 626 luxury apartments and 196 hotel rooms, according to Skyscraper Center, which tracks skyscrapers.
The building was likely to have been packed with people because of its clear view of the 828-meter (905-yard) tall Burj Khalifa, where the fireworks display was to take place. The hotel towers over the Souq Al Bahar, a popular shopping area with walkways that connect to the Burj Khalifa and the Middle East’s largest mall, the Dubai Mall.
Dubai’s Media Office wrote on its official Twitter account that four teams of firefighters were working to put out the blaze. They said the fire appears to have originated on a 20th floor terrace.
About 15 minutes before midnight, large explosions could be heard from inside the burning building. It was not clear what caused the blasts. The building was cloaked in thick black smoke.
The fire broke out about two hours before midnight, when the fireworks display was set to begin. To manage the crowds, Dubai police had closed off some roads and the metro before the fire broke out.
The emirate said New Year’s Eve celebrations will go on as planned. Organizers had expected around a million people to attend.
Dubai planned to wow spectators with three separate fireworks displays. The show was to begin at the Burj Khalifa, which organizers said was fitted with 400,000 LED lights. They said 1.6 tons of fireworks would be used in the display.
From there, the fireworks were to light up the sky around the sail-shaped Burj Al Arab and over a man-made palm-shaped island. Fireworks also will be on display in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the country of seven emirates.
Nearly an hour after the fire began, some onlookers began to leave while others stood, pressed against crowd barricades, watching the blaze. Among them was Chris Browne, a tourist from London, who watched with her husband, Stephen, standing behind her. They said they hoped no one was injured.
“It’s pretty scary stuff,” she said.
Standing nearby, Stuart O’Donnell, a British intensive care nurse who works in Dubai, said he was worried for those inside the building as it was in a prime location to watch the fireworks display.
“You feel sad for the people inside. … It spread so quickly when it started,” he said.
He and others in the crowd wondered what had started the blaze. “I do feel suspicious of when a fire breaks out on New Year’s Eve,” he said.