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BD3.5m building goes up in flames

A LANDLORD looked on helplessly yesterday as his brand new, multimillion dinar apartment was turned into a towering inferno.

Joint owner Ahmed Al Bannat told the GDN more than BD3.5 million had been invested in the property in Juffair, which was supposed to open within a fortnight.

Miraculously nobody was injured in the blaze, which engulfed the 11-storey building in minutes after exposed insulation material caught fire.

"The only thing that I am glad about is that no-one was injured," a devastated Mr Al Bannat told the GDN at the scene.

He said the final touches were being added to the building which was basically finished and furnished, with the power supposed to be turned on yesterday.

"There was BD28,000 worth of air-conditioning units, over 74 large flat screen TVs, beds, furniture and it's all gone," he said.

"The land cost me BD600,000 and the construction was over BD3m. I can't believe it.

"The building was going to be opened in about 10 to 12 days - now it is going to take forever to deal with the insurance companies before I can start construction again.

"The exact cost of the damage will take days to figure out."

He added the property would now have to be assessed for structural damage in the coming days.

Thick black smoke could be seen kilometres away as the fire, which started at around 8.30am, burned for over four hours.

It destroyed most of the building and prompted authorities to evacuate at least three surrounding properties.

Debris and smoke was blowing into the nearby US Navy base, which sent its own Naval Support Activity (NSA) fire engine to assist Bahrain's Civil Defence.

NSA Bahrain Fire Rescue chief Will Shanholtzer said it responded as part of a mutual agreement with the local authorities.

"The building went up in flames fast because the whole outside of the building is coated in petroleum-based insulation," he explained.

"The urethane insulation siding was used to insulate the whole building and it is very flammable when exposed, so once part of it caught fire the rest did."

Mr Shanholtzer revealed the main concern was that a massive crane attached to the building, which appeared to be pitching to the right, could fall.

"If the temperature of the metal on the crane reaches 1,300F (704C) the crane is likely to fall," he said.

Police cordoned off the area and tow trucks were brought in to move all cars parked in front of the building.

Firemen battled the blaze in 40C heat for at least four hours.

Although 16 Bahraini fire tenders were involved in extinguishing the fire, Civil Defence had to drain at least two swimming pools from surrounding properties.

Foreman Ram Singh, who was there when the fire started, explained that it broke out while a team of welders was working on the air-conditioning insulation.

"Most of us were actually not in the building - we were down eating our breakfast," he said.

"There was only one team in the building who were doing the copper welding for the AC of the building.

"When the fire started we all tried to put it out using water and air compressors, but it spread so fast - in only five minutes the whole building was on fire so we all just got out.

"It started on the ground floor and went up the side of the building very fast.

"There was nothing that we could do."

Residents in surrounding buildings were evacuated and most were asked to leave the immediate area.

American Larry Erb, who lives next door, said his home was used by Civil Defence to tackle the blaze.

"They came to my home and climbed onto my roof to get at the fire," said Mr Erb.

"They ran out of water then used the water from the pool of the building next to mine.

"I don't know what state my house is in now, but when I last saw it there was water everywhere."

Another neighbour described the moment her building was evacuated.

"We live in the apartment just in front of where all the smoke was blowing," said a 23-year-old Ethiopian woman, who asked not to be named.

"I was yelling to my roommate to get up - I could see the smoke just outside my window and I thought our building was on fire.

"We threw some clothes on, ran out of our apartment and banged on all the doors on our floor to warn others about the fire." ahmed@gdn.com.bh



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