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Dubai hotel fire smolders; cause not determined

| Friday, Jan. 1, 2016, 7:57 p.m.
Plumes of smoke rise from the Address Downtown Dubai hotel Friday, January 1, 2016, a day after it caught fire on New Year’s Eve in Dubai.
REUTERS
Plumes of smoke rise from the Address Downtown Dubai hotel Friday, January 1, 2016, a day after it caught fire on New Year’s Eve in Dubai.

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — A towering inferno that engulfed a 63-story luxury hotel in Dubai on New Year's Eve smoldered through the first day of 2016 as firefighters worked to douse its embers on Friday.

Authorities said they were still working to determine the cause of the blaze that erupted before the city's fireworks extravaganza and raced through the Address Downtown, one of the most upscale hotels and residences in Dubai. It came after a series of fires striking the towers that give this megacity its futuristic skyline.

Dubai officials said only 14 people suffered minor injuries in evacuating the building late Thursday night, but the blaze raised questions about building safety for those living in the United Arab Emirates.

The Address would have a prime spot for viewing the midnight fireworks display, centered at the nearby Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building. The Address boasts a luxury hotel with nearly 200 rooms, along with more than 600 residential units. Rentals of a one-bedroom can run $70,000 a year.

The fire started about 9:30 p.m. Thursday, racing up the sides of the building. Still authorities went ahead with the fireworks show.

More than 12 hours later on Friday morning, 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 defense officials cut natural gas to the area.

By the afternoon, the blaze had largely died down, but small fires were still visible burning through some windows, sending smoke into the air.

Dubai Civil Defense said the blaze appeared to have started on the 20th-floor terrace, according to a statement by the government media office. Witnesses who saw the fire start said they believed it began on the building's ground floor.

The Civil Defense said “cooling procedures” were still under way Friday, and that the investigation was continuing into the cause.

Around 1 million people had been expected to gather by the Burj Khalifa skyscraper to watch the fireworks. Dubai's economy depends heavily on tourism, and New Year's Day is one of the busiest seasons.

Dubai-based Emaar Properties, which built the Burj Khalifa, the Address Downtown and other surrounding developments, declined to immediately answer questions about the fire posed by The Associated Press. 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 read.

Lt. Gen. 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” in comments published by the state-run WAM news agency.

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-story Torch tower, one of the world's tallest residential buildings. There were no serious casualties in that blaze. In October, another fire broke out in a high-rise residential tower in the Emirati city of Sharjah.

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