A huge fire ripped through a luxury Dubai hotel on Thursday night, injuring 16 people, just a few hours before the emirate celebrated the new year with a spectacular fireworks display nearby.
The Address Downtown hotel, which is a few blocks from the iconic Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest tower, was engulfed in flames across several floors as sirens wailed and helicopters hovered overhead, witnesses said.
Dubai’s police chief said all the residents of the five star hotel had been evacuated from the scene of the blaze, which had still not been extinguished some three hours after it broke out.
“All the residents are out,” General Khamis Matar al-Mzeima said.
“Until the fire is put out, we will not have information on what caused it,” he added.
“At least 14 people have been slightly injured, along with one medium injury, and a heart attack case registered due to people pushing” amid the smoke, the media office tweeted.
Witness Raphael Slama told AFP the fire started at around 9.30pm (1730 GMT) and rapidly spread upwards across dozens of floors.
An AFP photographer at the scene said “it began in the middle of the hotel, then went down like lightning before shooting up again.”
“People in the vicinity began to run in panic to get away from the area,” he added.
A video circulating on social media showed anxious shoppers at the huge nearby Dubai Mall as they rushed to get out, with a woman shouting “folks don’t run... don’t panic”.
The government tweeted that the fire erupted on the 20th floor and affected only the outer facade of the building.
“Four firefighting teams have been deployed” to fight the blaze, it added.
Authorities said earlier Thursday that they had deployed thousands of security personnel to ensure visitors and residents could enjoy the New Year’s festivities safely.
History of skyscraper fires
The hotel is one of the tallest buildings in Dubai, with seven lounges and restaurants as well as a beauty spa, according to its website.
A spectacular fireworks display kicked off as planned at midnight (2000 GMT), beginning at the 828 metre (2,700 foot) high Burj Khalifa before spread across the skies of the cash-flush city above thousands of cheering spectators.
Lasers flashed through the skies over the chic district surrounding the tower, which was lit up with the flags of the six Gulf Cooperation Council states, of which the United Arab Emirates is a member.
“From @BurjKhalifa to the world: Happy New Year 2016,” said the Dubai government media office on Twitter.
Dubai’s futuristic cityscape is famous for its hugely varied skyscrapers.
In November, a massive blaze engulfed three residential blocs in central Dubai and led to services on a metro line being suspended, although no one was hurt.
In February, a huge fire gutted one of the emirate’s tallest buildings, destroying luxury flats in the Torch tower and triggering an evacuation of nearby blocs in the Dubai Marina neighbourhood -- a district popular among expatriates.
And in 2012, a huge blaze gutted the 34-storey Tamweel Tower in the nearby Jumeirah Lake Towers district. It was later revealed to have been caused by a cigarette butt thrown into a bin.