Bibliotheca blaze stopped in time
A fire at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina was quickly contained. Finding the cause, reports Dena Rashed, may take longer
A fire broke out in one of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina's fourth-floor administrative offices on Sunday morning, resulting in limited damage to some of the mega-library's computers and furnishings. Thirty-five people were hospitalised for smoke inhalation during the incident, which was quickly contained by fire and rescue personnel. None of the library's vast collection of cultural and literary treasures were harmed.
About 20 fire engines and 20 ambulances arrived at the library in downtown Alexandria just minutes after the blaze began. "Although the fire was a terrible shock," said Nagwa Saadeddin, head of the library's exhibition department, "everything went well, and everyone managed to stay calm and leave the premises in an organised manner."
Saadeddin said it was lucky that the library's graphics department had been moved from the building's fourth floor just a few days before the fire took place. "Otherwise we could have lost some very expensive computers."
The fact that the fire took place in a $200 million project that had just recently been completed came as a shock to many. Preliminary explanations by official sources indicated that the fire was caused by an electrical short circuit on the fourth floor.
In an interview with Al-Ahram Weekly, however, the project's consultative engineer, Mamdouh Hamza, argued that the idea of an electrical short circuit was far-fetched. "This is not a small library in a shanty area," Hamza said. "The Bibliotheca was designed to the best standards." In fact, because of the advanced safety measures in place at the library, Hamza said, building management personnel were able to move as quickly as possible to put out the fire.
The 11-storey library -- which can hold up to four million books, and features a conference centre, five research institutes, three museums and six galleries -- took 20 years to come to light.
Hamza said preliminary reports indicated that the fire did not emerge from any of the electrical circuits in the building's original design. In order to avoid random explanations regarding the fire's origins, Hamza brought in a British expert, someone "independent who has nothing to do with the organisation itself", who began his investigation on Tuesday morning, and was supposed to provide a full report by last night.
According to the expert's preliminary findings, however, Hamza was able to speak of three reasonable explanations for the fire: a mal-function in something like a paper shredder or a printer that was plugged in; a discarded lit cigarette; or something related to the remnants of a flammable material that was found in the room where the fire began. This last, Hamza said, "suggests that the fire could have been started intentionally". He also said that two bottles of insecticide -- which are also flammable -- were found in the area. In any case, Hamza said, "the fire had begun slowly."
Despite the fact that the library was completely evacuated when the fire took place, it was opened to the public again just a few hours later.