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.