Victoria’s state building regulator has concluded that the installation of sub-par external cladding played a key role in the spread of a destructive apartment blaze in Melbourne last year.

The fire that tore vertically through the 21-storey Apartments in Melbourne’s Docklands precinct toward the end of November resulted in the evacuation of over 500 occupants as well as damages worth at least $2 million.

Following a review of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade’s (MFB) report on the incident, the Victorian Building Authority (VBA) has concluded that non-compliant combustible cladding was instrumental in the spread of the blaze.

Testing conducted by the CSIRO in mid-April on behalf of MFB found that the Alucobest cladding material installed by building company failed to comply with high-rise combustibility requirements.

“The external cladding material on this building did not prevent the spread of the fire as required by the Building Code of Australia,” said MFB chief officer Peter Rau.

While BCA currently stipulates that the external walls of apartment buildings do not need to be fire-proof if they are non-load bearing and at least three metres away from a fire source, it nonetheless requires that they at least be non-combustible.

An unextinguished cigarette left on an apartment balcony was found by the MFB to be the initial cause of the blaze, igniting flammable materials that had been stored on the balcony.

The building’s external wall cladding subsequently caught fire, causing a blaze to spread vertically from the sixth floor to the topmost 21st floor.

The report highlights the importance of building materials regulation, with the MFB calling for members of industry to employ products that possess and fully satisfy current certificates.

The report is also expected to prompt the Docklands Council to issue notices to building owners requiring them to replace any potentially unsafe external cladding.

VBA has launched an investigation into both builder and the building surveyor, and plans to investigate the usage of non-compliant cladding in other locations within the state.

“The VBA has begun contacting all relevant building practitioners and will work with them to determine if non-compliant building material has been used incorrectly during the construction of other buildings in Victoria,” said Jarrod Edwards, VBA technical and regulation director.

  • The cause has been established. Those who will have to pay have been established – the innocent owners! The organization responsible has been established, at least in the minds of those who know the reality of the 'regulator'.

    Imagine the VBA, the negligent authority responsible for enforcement of regulations being so negligent. Then imagine the VBA conducting an investigation into itself. Go a step further and try to imagine the likelihood of the VBA finding itself guilty of negligence.

    Now try to picture the VBA making any truthful findings. Then making such public – never before have either of these happened. The last step would be recommending severe penalties to the VBA! Never will happen!

    This is more than ludicrous. It is pure farce and for the VBA no doubt very amusing. But for owners and the public at large, where people's lives are at serious risk, the VBA's appalling conduct, now for 22 years, is most definitely not a laughing matter.

  • The real difficulty with these foam filled aluminium cladding systems is the rationale behind the test methods for flammability. The resin foams are designed to self extinguish when the flame source is removed. However, as can be seen from the photograph, the flame source was continuous allowing the façade to act as a chimney and ignite the whole face. The fact that the aluminium melts at 660 C doesn't help either. The test methods embodied in the BCA need to be updated to accommodate the requirements restricting fire rising vertically up the face of external cladding. The current methods only really are testing fire from the outside to the inside of the façade.

  • The real problem with these panels is the NCC/BCA and the use of the term "non-combustible". This is defined term that means, in simple terms, something that is not deemed "combustible" by AS 1530.1. AS 1530.1 doesn't even have a sensible method of test for the stuff let alone a means of determining if it is or isn't combustible. Because of the way the BCA is worded, if it can't be tested it can't be combustible! What a load of rubbish! Like all Codes and Standards, this one needs a MAJOR overhaul because any lawyer could drive a truck through most of them.

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