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Dubai skyscraper blaze burns on into 2016

Published 01/01/2016

A fire burns in the Address Downtown skyscraper in Dubai (AP)
A fire burns in the Address Downtown skyscraper in Dubai (AP)
A fire continues to burn in the Address Downtown skyscraper in Dubai (AP)
The fire began on New Year's Eve (AP)

A towering inferno that engulfed a 63-storey luxury hotel in Dubai on New Year's Eve burned on into the first morning of 2016 as firefighters worked to douse its embers.

The blaze at the Address Downtown, one of the most upscale hotels and residences in Dubai, comes after a series of fires striking the towers that provide the city's futuristic skyline.

While Dubai officials said only 14 people suffered minor injuries in evacuating the building late on New Year's Eve, the fire raised new questions about building safety for those living in the United Arab Emirates.

The fire started around 9.30pm on Thursday, racing up the sides of the building. Still authorities went ahead and conducted a midnight fireworks show at the nearby Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building.

More than 12 hours later, Dubai firefighters largely watched the fire from the ground, unable at one point to use a water hose on a ladder truck. They later regained water pressure and resumed spraying the building.

Restaurants nearby opened for business, but served limited menus as civil defence officials cut natural gas to the area.

By the afternoon, the fire had largely died down, but its embers still sent smoke into the air.

Dubai's Media Office wrote on its official Twitter account that the fire appeared to have started on a 20th floor terrace, though witnesses who saw the blaze start said they believed it began on the building's ground floor.

About 1 million people had been expected to gather around the Burj Khalifa skyscraper to watch the fireworks.

Dubai's economy depends heavily on tourism, and New Year's is one of the busiest seasons, drawing people from around the world to watch the fireworks that the emirate puts on at the world's tallest tower, as well as the sail-shaped Burj Al Arab and over a man-made palm-shaped island.

No-one has yet offered a cause for the fire. It is clear if the Address Downtown was to be involved in the fireworks display.

Dubai-based Emaar Properties, which built the Burj Khalifa, the Address Downtown and other surrounding developments, declined to immediately answer questions about the fire. It did issue a statement praising authorities "for their immediate and professional support".

"An investigation is ongoing and details will be provided once they are ascertained," the statement said.

Lieutenant General Sheikh Saif bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the UAE's deputy prime minister and interior minister, also praised first responders to the blaze for "the success of the rescue operation".

But challenges remain as Dubai has faced a series of recent tower fires.

In February, a similar blaze spread along the external cladding of Dubai's 86-storey Torch tower, one of the world's tallest residential buildings. There were no serious casualties in that fire. In October, another fire broke out in a high-rise residential tower in the Emirati city of Sharjah.

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