Misfortune struck in Mecca during the annual Islamic pilgrimage again on Thursday, but this time there were no fatalities reported, and only two injuries. A hotel in the Saudi city caught fire, requiring the evacuation of over 1,000 people.
Al-Jazeera reports the fire broke out on the 16th floor of the 20-story hotel. (Some other sources, such as the Associated Press, say it was the 8th floor of an 11-story hotel.) Two of the guests were injured during evacuation from the eighth floor. The injured, and presumably most if not all of the hotel guests, were described as “pilgrims” making the Hajj journey to Mecca, which draws over a million visitors for the event.
The Saudi government has offered few other details about the incident so far, and has not discussed the cause of the fire, the possibility that it was set deliberately, or the extent of the damage. Interestingly, most media accounts mention the exact district where the hotel is located, but do not mention its name—which suggests they were working from a single official statement that did not want to reveal the name of the building, for some reason. (Surely it would be common knowledge among people in the area, and thus easily discovered by reporters interested in learning it.)
However, a report at Tempo.co of Indonesia says it was the Sakkab al-Barakah Hotel, and that the likely cause of the fire was a faulty rice cooker. This prompted the Saudi Religious Affairs Minister to forbid Hajj pilgrimers from cooking food in their hotel rooms, although evidently his statement is meant to be taken as very strong advice and not an outright legal ban.
This may prove difficult advice to take, as the minister conceded that the hotel could only provide 15 lunches during the pilgrimage, and the Saudi government has been cracking down on fast-food street vendors. Failure to anticipate the dietary needs of a huge crowd that has been rolling into town for centuries seems like exceptionally poor civic planning.
The minister’s comments implied that the two injured hotel guests are the ones who started the fire with their faulty rice cooker and are of Indonesian extraction.
Just a week ago, a crane collapse at the Grand Mosque in Mecca killed at least 111 people and injured nearly 400 more.