Monday, 16 March 2015

Sharjah's Burning

Laboratory simulation of a chip pan fire: a be...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Another massive warehouse fire in Sharjah last night has the papers tweeting pictures this morning, but they haven't had time to get the story up on their websites yet. The images are pretty impressive.

You can pretty much bet these days on waking up to a swathe of black across the horizon above Sharjah every couple of months, if not more frequently. The fires, when they come, tend to be big black oceans of smoke occasions, a stack rising high into the blue before slowly dissipating to form a great skid mark of yellow-edged darkness over the city.

The biggest I can remember was when the infamous National Paints (infamous because their factory is next to a roundabout and flyover that has long been a popular spot for Sharjah/Dubai commuters to sit around in their cars tapping their steering wheels for an hour or so each way. Now the road has been expanded, the queues are still there but they are marginally less snarly) went up. I was doing a regular radio show back then and co-host Jessicaca Swann and I were lucky enough to catch eyewitness Albert Dias (whom I knew from Twitter) on the phone and open our 10am show with his account of the conflagration. I have the sound file still - it was great radio, with Albert recounting the events unfolding around him against a backdrop of shouting, sirens and the colossal whumps of barrels of paint exploding. It was only later I learnt that Albert's car was being consumed by the flames as he was talking to us.

The fires are not only monotonously regular, but almost invariably have that same huge environmental impact - what volume of toxic black smoke does it take to fill a skyline? And yet little seems to change - warehouses, factories and 'go downs' seem to be subjected to little regulation and appear to blithely continue to store large volumes of flammable material in conditions ripe for incendiary events to unfold.

You can just see it, a Middle Eastern version of that series that used to air in the UK, 'London's Burning'. I always loved those programmes because you just knew the guy who was working nights to feed his young family and who was exhausted and had dragged himself home to cook dinner for the kids was going to leave that chip pan on and go to sleep. The same is true of all those ER type programmes. You just know the guy with the hammer drill and a rickety ladder is never going to make it through the show intact. Sometimes, just sometimes, it would be nice if he didn't just get off the ladder and take a few minutes out to fix it up with some gaffa tape before going on to safely install his light fitting.

And so to Sharjah, where Kumar and Krishnan are in the warehouse, surrounded by looming stacks of shiny black sacking filled with plastic granules. Krishnan barks at Kumar to put out the fag and Kumar flicks it away dismissively. But what's that? A pile of paper in the corner? Oh no, the cigarette rolls towards it! Whatever will happen next?

1 comment:

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