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Saturday, September 25, 2021

Forensics expert questioned at hearing over deadly Villaggio fire origins

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With reporting from Riham Sheble

Defense lawyers and prosecution cross-examined the author of an internal investigation report on the Villaggio fire today at the latest hearing to determine criminal responsibility for the 19 deaths in last year’s blaze.

Buttressing last week’s testimony from Qatar’s fire chief, the forensic expert from the Ministry of Interior explained to the court the technical details of how the fire started.

The only witness called to the stand today, and the last to be summoned by the prosecution, the fire investigator testified that it was his team’s job to determine the cause and origin of the fire and how far it spread. His investigation began at 2pm on May 28, while the mall was still on fire, and continued for four days.

Apparently, the fire started when the flammable components inside a florescent lightbulb in the Nike shop came into contact with the hot plastic of the insulators within the device, he said. A malfunction caused the temperature of the electric conductor to spike, burning the insulators, which fell in ashes onto boxes of sports equipment and igniting them.

Toxic smoke

Because Nike’s storage room was upstairs, the ensuing smoke – which contained carbon monoxide, a toxic gas, and carbon monoxide, a suffocating gas – quickly spread to neighboring Gympanzee, with fire eventually damaging 31 shops, he said. 

The investigator also reiterated that the type of light bulb in question, which had an aluminum coil inside rather than a more fire-resistant copper one, is one commonly found by fire experts to be a cause of fires here.

In response to a question about whether Villaggio and Gympanzee’s sprinkler systems and fire extinguishers were functioning, the witness said he did not see water in and around the shops until the day after the blaze, when the sprinklers were turned on.

The trial will resume for the 10th time next week on Feb. 7, as defense attorneys call their witnesses to the stand, including three employees of the Ministry of Labor.

At least some of the seven defendants in the case, including two Gympanzee co-owners, four representatives of Villaggio and an employee of the Ministry of Business and Trade, are also expected to testify before the case is over.

Thoughts?

Credit: Photo by Brian Candy

Note: This headline has been changed in response to complaints that the original wording appeared irreverent.

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