Dubai New Year’s Eve Blaze Draws Attention to Cladding Risks

Thursday, January 7th, 2016
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The blaze which engulfed a luxury hotel tower in Dubai on New Year’s Eve is already prompting calls in Australia for greater scrutiny of the external cladding materials used for high-rise buildings.

Experts claim that the use of sub-par exterior cladding played a key role in the spread of a blaze that consumed a high-rise luxury hotel in Dubai on New Year’s Eve.

The fire that took place at the 63-storey Address Downtown Dubai is believed to have started at around 21:30 local time on the final day of 2015, before rapidly spared to the rest of the five-star hotel and apartment complex.

Firefighters subsequently spent over 20 hours fighting the blaze, with official reports indicating that 14 people incurred minor injuries.

Companies responsible for the manufacture and installation of the Address Downtown’s exterior panels told local media that most of Dubai’s high-rise towers built before 2012 during the city’s roaring property boom employed non-fire-rated cladding.

Samer Barakat, chief executive of Alumco, the company responsible for supplying 35,000 square metres of composite panels to the Address Downtown’s developers, said to Dubai’s The National  that the vast majority of buildings in the city make use of similar materials.

“Two thirds of the buildings in Dubai are covered with aluminium composite panels (ACP) that is not fire rated,” said Barakat. “From our side we complied. We gave all our submissions, there was approval on every submission according to specification.

“We cannot create a code for ourselves.”

The aluminium composite panels that are widely employed as cladding for the exteriors of modern high-rise buildings around the world have already been blamed for a number of fires in the United Arab Emirates.

International media coverage of the incident has renewed attention in Australia given to the fire risks associated with sub-par cladding materials, which was recently brought to public awareness by a blaze which broke out in November 2014 at a 21-storey apartment complex in Melbourne’s Docklands precinct.

Australian fire experts have already drawn comparisons between the Address Downtown fire on New Year’s eve and the Lacrosse apartment complex fire in 2014.

Scott Williams, chief executive of Fire Protection Association Australia, said to The Australian that the Dubai fire should spur closer official scrutiny of the external cladding materials employed by our own building industries.

“This fire should serve as a timely reminder to all state and territory government and we again urge all regulators to follow the lead of Victoria and Western Australia in auditing existing building stock to locate any noncompliant combustible cladding material,” Williams said.

“Dangerous combustible cladding is a worldwide issue and we have already seen the damaging effects here in Australia at the Lacrosse apartment tower in Melbourne.”

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