By Arab News
By Md Rasooldeen
A devastating fire in the early hours of yesterday gutted at least 12 shops and 17 stalls in a shopping complex in the heart of Riyadh.
Eyewitnesses said the fire broke out in the Swaigah Center in the city center of Batha near Deerah at around 3:30 a.m. and in no time engulfed nearby structures.
Officials said no one was seriously hurt in the blaze since it broke out when the shopping mall was closed.
The Civil Defense evacuated families from 66 apartments affected by the fire.
Civil Defense Chief Saad Al-Tuwaijeri and his deputy Sulaiman Al-Amro monitored operations until the fire was totally extinguished.
Most of the damaged shops included retail and wholesale outlets for fabrics and women’s garments.
The fire-brigade took three hours to extinguish the fire, which started when shopkeepers and residents on the upper floors were fast asleep.
The Saudi Red Crescent and Riyadh police helped douse the flames as quickly as possible.
The authorities brought the situation under control quickly, onlookers said.
The shopkeepers were mainly Bangladeshis and Yemeni nationals while the residents were expatriates working in nearby offices in the city center.
At least seven fire brigade units reached the scene soon after the fire started.
The Civil Defense launched an investigation to find out the cause of the fire.
However, onlookers attributed the blaze to a short circuit in the building.
According to a shopkeeper, fabrics and garments worth millions of riyals were reduced to ashes due to the fire.
The shops had stored large stocks of textiles to meet demand during the holy month of Ramadan, which is only weeks away.
Noticing the fire on the ground floor, residents at the upper levels of the shopping complex rushed to the rooftops shouting for assistance.
They were evacuated by Red Crescent officials with the help of cranes that brought them down safely. Even helicopters were used for evacuation purposes.
Some of the evacuees suffering from breathing problems due to smoke were rushed to the nearest hospital for treatment.
Public Relations Director at King Saud Medical City in Riyadh Ibrahim Al-Subaie said the hospital received an Egyptian couple suffering from asphyxia as a result of the fire.
He said he alerted the whole hospital to be prepared to receive casualties.
Civil Defense spokesman Capt. Mohammed Al-Hammadi said that the situation was brought under control with the help of the air and ground rescue teams.