On Thursday night, photographer Dennis Mallari was in Dubai to shoot the city’s New Year’s fireworks. Instead, he spent two hours on a hotel balcony as flames licked the floors beneath him, praying that he’d live to see his wife again.
Mallari, who is from the Philippines, was on the 48th floor of the 63-floor Address Downtown Dubai on New Year’s Eve when a blaze erupted on the 20th floor at about 9:30 p.m. The fire ignited plenty of panic and fear, but luckily no one was seriously hurt.
By Friday morning, as firefighters bathed the high-rise hotel in water while smoke curled from the skyscraper’s lower floors, the authorities were beginning to investigate what sparked the inferno, the New York Times noted.
So far, officials have a theory, but not a concrete cause. Col. Saif al-Mazrouei, the director of Dubai’s traffic department, said the fire was an accident and began on the exterior of the hotel at about the 20th floor.
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According to Agence France-Press, Dubai security official General Dahi Khalfan posted a picture on Twitter of a fire beneath a ledge on the hotel’s lower floors, with the comment “this is where the search begins.” He said the photo had been captured by a police photographer.
Still shaky from the Dubai hotel fire, Mallari spoke to CNN and AFP about his time on the 48th floor. The night started when he and a friend perched on the balcony in order to take photos of the fireworks display. But then the fire erupted and soon swallowed several floors in flames, he described.
His friend initially tried to run to the nearest exit, but soon smoke was “coming towards the balcony” as it filled many of the hotel’s 63 floors. All of Dennis’ possible escape routes were blocked.
“If I go there, inside to try to go exit, I’m not going to die because of the fire,” he recalled, but “because of the smoke.”
At first, Mallari said he panicked, but he kept filming the scene to keep himself calm and remembered debris “floating down from the building.” After two hours on the balcony, he realized that he would likely suffocate there, so made a last-ditch and very brave decision to save his life.
He was within arm’s reach of 100 feet of heavy-duty cable from a machine usually used by window-washers. So he lunged for it, attached the cable to his belt, and stepped off the balcony onto a narrow ledge, where he remained for a half hour mere feet from the fire.
“I got scared. I prayed. If this is my last chance, then so be it. One hour, then that’s it, I’m dead.”
Then he called and texted colleagues, begging them to contact authorities and get help. Soon after, help came in the form of rescue workers who kept him calm as he waited for their arrival.
“I was telling them I hoped to survive and see my wife.”
Finally, after a terrifying couple hours, Dennis was led safely back into the hotel as Dubai firefighters battled the fire beneath them. He was given oxygen and led into the smoky stairwell. Soon after, he posted a selfie while wearing the mask and sent it to friends to let them know he was safe.
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And then he went back to work, snapping photos of the fireworks as planned. Many Dubai residents were critical of the city’s decision to go forward with the celebrations since the inferno was still raging at the hotel by midnight.
About 14 to 16 people were hurt in the fire, but none of them seriously. Many people reportedly ran from the building screaming in panic, others fainting as they tried to escape. According to Gulf News, many of the injured were treated at the scene and a pregnant woman and elderly man were taken to the hospital for observation as a precaution. One person had a heart attack.
The Address Downtown hotel is Dubai’s 18th tallest building the 93rd tallest in the world. Although the city is famous for its ambitious and unique building projects, it’s also well-known for those impressive skyscrapers catching fire. In November, a blaze swallowed three blocks; in February, another destroyed one of the United Arab Emirates’ tallest buildings; and in 2012, another huge inferno gutted a 34-floor building.
[Photo by Sina Bahrami/Associated Press]