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Jul 20, 1:47 PM EDT

Once again, fire races up a skyscraper in high-rise Dubai


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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) -- A residential skyscraper caught fire in Dubai's densely populated Marina district on Wednesday, sending thick plumes of smoke into the air and burning chunks of the building tumbling to the streets below.

It was the latest in a string of dramatic infernos that have raced up the sides of skyscrapers in and around the Mideast's commercial hub, which is home to the world's tallest tower, the Burj Khalifa.

The afternoon blaze began several stories off the ground of the 945-foot (288 meter) Sulafa Tower and spread rapidly as hot wind gusts fanned the flames. Hundreds of Marina residents fled to the cavernous streets around the tower as firefighters raced to the scene.

"It was really scary," said Nora Maki, who lives across the street. She said the flames "spread like wildfire" but said emergency crews did a good job of getting it under control.

Firefighters could be seen on scorched balconies trying to reach out to extinguish the fire. Others sprayed the building's lower floors, though they appeared unable to reach the flames.

There were no casualties and the fire was extinguished within three hours, according to the Dubai Media Office.

The tower opened in 2010, according to the Chicago-based Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat. It says the tower has 76 stories and ranks as the 21st tallest building in Dubai, which boasts several of the world's highest residential towers.

The building's Dubai-based developer, Al Sayyah and Sons Investment Co., could not be reached for comment.

Elias Kalash, a Syrian resident of the tower, said he smelled smoke and saw burning embers falling off the building shortly before the fire alarm went off. He knew the building had working smoke detectors, he said, because only two days earlier the staff had alerted him that sensors showed something was burning on his stove.

"I never thought it would happen," he said as he watched flames lap up his building from the street below. "Now we are watching and pray to God it won't come to our room."

Multiple skyscrapers have been struck by similar fires across the United Arab Emirates in recent years. While the initial causes may differ, building and safety experts blame the fires' rapid spread on a popular type of cladding used to cover the buildings that can be highly flammable, particularly if installed without fire breaks.

The most prominent recent fire was a New Year's inferno at a 63-story luxury building known as The Address Downtown Dubai, which is near the 2,717-foot (828-meter) Burj Khalifa and the city's biggest shopping mall. Police say faulty wiring sparked that blaze.

Authorities have vowed to tighten oversight in the wake of the fires, pledging to supervise construction crews more strictly and monitor the material they use. At least 30,000 buildings across the Emirates have cladding similar to the kind that experts say is involved in the fires.

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Associated Press writer Aya Batrawy contributed to this report.

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