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'Electric fault' started deadly Qatar fire

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An initial investigation into a fire at a shopping centre in Qatar which left 19 dead, including 13 children, has concluded that the blaze was started by an electricity problem with a faulty spot light.

The Qatar Special Higher Committee concluded its week-long investigation into the fire on Wednesday, saying there was negligence by the security team overseeing the Villaggio shopping complex in promptly responding to the incident.

The committee also said there were no plans in place to deal with an emergency on that scale and that staff of the shopping centre were not trained to cope with the possibility of a fire.

All 19 people killed in the inferno at Villagio's Gympanzee child care centre on May 28 were foreigners, they comprised two fire fighters, 13 children and four female teachers.

The committee found that the child care centre was not licensed by the ministry of Social Affairs, as required by Qatari law.

It therefore did not have the safety measures in place that are required for a nursery.

Not premeditated

The investigation committee said the fire was not premeditated and concluded there was "a status of lack of adherence to required laws, systems, and measure by all concerned parties to different degree".

"This includes adherence to design, license, and safety conditions, which contributed to Villaggio Mall catastrophe," the investigators said.

The investigation concluded that the fire started at the upper floor of a Nike sports goods store after an electricity problem caused a faulty spotlight to catch fire.

The fire was "due to a faulty electrical wiring in a fluorescent light," a statement by the committee said, explaining that the plastic components of the lighting fixture caught fire which rapidly spread as smoke spread to the adjacent nursery.

An employee at the Nike store and a security guard failed to put out the fire after they were the first ones to see smoke arising from the upper level of the shop, the committee said.

Civil defence workers arrived at the scene three minutes after being alerted to the fire, but only discovered half an hour later that there there were children trapped in the nursery.

The technical committee also found shortcomings in the response of the security team at Villaggio, including employees at the Nike store, adding that the lack of good plans to deal with an emergency limited their abilities to contain the fire.

Furthermore, the investigation concluded there was a lack of co-ordination between government agencies responsible for public safety and there were gaps in safety and firefighting requirements.

The investigators could also not confirm the existence of firefighting water cannons at the Nike store.

Recommendations

The committee recognised the shortcomings that the fire laid bare were not limited to Gympanzee and Villaggio and that there were other public buildings in Doha which do not adhere to required public safety laws.

It issued 11 recommendations to prevent or reduce risk of similar incidents in the future.

Among them would be a review of regulations governing the activities of baby care facilities, which allows nurseries to register under different names, such as activity centres.

Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani, the Qatari heir apparent, has referred the committee recommendations to the Qatari council of ministers for review and immediate implementation, the committee said.

The committee only investigated the technical cause of the blaze, leaving the criminal part to public prosecutors.


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