Exmouth couple evacuated from Dubai inferno
PUBLISHED: 06:30 11 January 2016
A couple from Exmouth saw their New Year’s Eve celebrations marred by disaster as they were forced to evacuate away from a burning skyscraper.
Joe and Lucy Hafner were dining just metres from the towering Address Hotel in Dubai, which erupted in flames in shocking footage broadcast around the world.
The couple were among thousands who had to be evacuated to safety after the outbreak of the blaze – which Joe was among the first to spot.
He said: “I happened to look up at the hotel and see what looked like a barbecue, I suppose, with a few flames coming from it. I watched it for a few seconds and it got a bit bigger.”
Joe says he alerted staff at the restaurant and then flagged down passing event officials coordinating planned New Year celebrations.
Joe said: “I grabbed one of them and said ‘there’s a fire up there’, to which they laughed and said ‘no, it’s just a barbecue’.
“But when they looked up at that point, it had spread to the next balcony. Then, within a minute, it had spread to the whole of that floor and above.
“At that point, people were beginning to panic. A couple of minutes later, the restaurant decided to evacuate.”
Joe, 27, and Lucy, 30, had been eating at Five Guys, a restaurant outside the Dubai Mall, around 150 metres away from the blazing 63-storey hotel, between it and the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, on the promenade where Dubai’s spectacular New Year firework display was due to take place.
They were initially evacuated into the mall itself, along with thousands of New Year revellers.
Joe said: “We were standing inside the mall not really knowing what to do. Event staff were trying to control the crowd and moved us out the back entrance of the mall. You could still see the hotel from there.”
The couple, who have been living in Dubai since August, with Joe working as a personal trainer and Lucy as a teacher, then faced chaotic scenes at a railway station as they made their way home, having parked their car in the burning hotel’s car park.
They were able to return and collect it the next day, by which time the fire was out, although Joe says there was ‘still smoke coming out’.
Reflecting on his reaction watching the fire take hold, Joe, a former Exmouth Community College pupil, said: “It just grew really big, really quickly. When it took the entire side of the building, it was completely surreal - like a film.
“You felt a bit helpless because you wanted to do something, but were too far away to get there and help.”
No-one was killed in the fire. According to Dubai authorities, 16 people suffered mostly minor injuries.
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