SHARJAH, United Arab Emirates (AP) — A fire broke out Thursday in a high-rise residential tower in the Emirati city of Sharjah, sending thick smoke billowing over the city and snarling traffic as commuters headed home at the end of the local work week.
The blaze was the latest in a string of dramatic fires that have consumed the facades of skyscrapers in the United Arab Emirates in recent years, posing a challenge for firefighters and raising concerns about fire safety in the rapidly developing Gulf nation.
A total of 19 people were treated for smoke inhalation and 250 households were affected by the blaze, Sharjah Civil Defense incident commander Lt. Col. Saeed al-Suwaidi told The Associated Press. There were no fatalities.
Photos posted on social media showed thick smoke billowing from the fire as it licked up the tower's facade. It did not appear that the fire spread deep inside the building, which is located near the popular City Centre Sharjah shopping mall.
Falling, burning debris damaged at least five cars parked at the base of the tower.
The fire was extinguished by nightfall. A Red Crescent tent was set up behind the building to care for those affected.
Sharjah resident Shane Jansen said he saw an apartment on one of the lower floors engulfed in flames. He said it appeared that the fire spread upward from there as gusts of wind fanned the flames.
"It looks like it crawled up the building," he said. "You see the fire calms down a bit, and then when the wind starts gushing up it starts rising up."
Fire crews initially struggled to reach the scene of the fire because of narrow streets in the area, Jansen said. Helicopters could be seen hovering over the scene of the afternoon blaze, which left about a third of the tower's face charred black.
Eight fire trucks responded to the fire, including two that arrived to help from neighboring emirates, al-Suwaidi said.
The densely populated city of Sharjah sits immediately adjacent to Dubai, the Mideast's booming commercial hub. It is home to hundreds of thousands of expatriate families and migrant workers, many of whom commute daily south into Dubai.
Fires have affected several skyscrapers in the Emirates, including a similar blaze in February that 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 fire.
Associated Press writer Adam Schreck in Dubai, United Arab Emirates contributed to this report.