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World

Hotel Fire Raises Concerns About Safety Of Dubai's Skyscrapers

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

A fire is still smoldering in a 63-story luxury hotel in downtown Dubai. The fire broke out last night as crowds were gathering for New Year's celebrations. The huge flames made for a scary image, but fortunately no one was killed. Fourteen people were injured, but a spectacular fireworks display went on as planned nearby. This fire and another less than a year ago have raised the question - are Dubai skyscrapers the world's tallest fire hazards? NPR's Leila Fadel reports from Dubai.

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Nearly 24 hours after the fire raged in downtown Dubai, smoke still billowed from The Address Hotel.

Emergency vehicles from Dubai's Civil Defense surrounded the building as firefighters continued to battle a small fire still burning on one of the top floors. They're working to cool the building, and the government has launched an investigation into what caused the furious blaze. Many praise the rescuers for safely evacuating hundreds of guests and hotel workers. The shiny skyscraper is one of the 100 tallest buildings in the world and is part of the futuristic and towering skyline of Dubai's downtown. This place is a tourist hub for luxury travelers, businesspeople and shoppers.

And today, the place was still bustling. But this fire is one of a series that have burned through Dubai's glitzy skyscrapers. In February, flames ravaged the tallest residential tower in the city, unfortunately named Torch Tower. In November, a blaze spread through three residential blocks. And in 2012, flames destroyed another skyscraper called Tamweel Tower. Beryl Awoura, a teaching assistant at a preschool, couldn't believe she was watching The Address Hotel burn.

BERYL AWOURA: I was shocked by how big the fire was. I - it's almost like telling somebody the Eiffel Tower is on fire.

FADEL: She was dressed up for New Year's Eve at a nearby restaurant when the blaze started. The police rushed in and yelled for everyone to evacuate. She saw panic, smoke and debris everywhere.

AWOURA: If that hotel went up in flames like that, I'm actually tempted to think that they used some really cheap stuff because such a place is not supposed to burn with such magnitude and with such intensity.

FADEL: Lots of people here are wondering about this. There's concern over the cladding panels used on the outside of these shiny buildings. A lot of them, experts say, are flammable. The 2012 fire that destroyed Tamweel Tower was in part caused by these panels because they act as fuel for the flames. The National, a government-owned newspaper, estimates upward of 70 percent of skyscrapers in Dubai are covered in these flammable panels. In 2013, the United Arab Emirates took steps to fix the problem and now require fire-resistant material be used on the outside of buildings over 49-feet high. But that doesn't fix the problem with the hundreds of buildings already in the sky. Leila Fadel, NPR News, Dubai. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.