Saturday 22 October 2016

Dubai blaze raises safety fears about luxury towers

Ahmed Jadallah

Published 02/01/2016 | 02:30

The Address Downtown Dubai hotel was still smouldering yesterday after flames engulfed the luxury tower block. Photo: Getty
The Address Downtown Dubai hotel was still smouldering yesterday after flames engulfed the luxury tower block. Photo: Getty
Fireworks explode around the burning building on New Year’s Eve. Photo: Reuters

Firefighters appear to have mostly extinguished the inferno that suddenly engulfed one of Dubai's most prominent skyscrapers on New Year's Eve.

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Plumes of white smoke still emanated from the charred, 63-storey Address Downtown Dubai hotel and residential block at daybreak yesterday, but civil defence crews had mostly extinguished the flames which erupted around 9.30pm (5.30pm Irish time).

Witnesses reported seeing flames leaping from a lower portion of the building as late as around noon local time yesterday, but a hotel spokesperson said the situation was under control.

"The fire in the hotel has been contained. We would like to express our gratitude to the authorities for their immediate and professional support. An investigation is ongoing," the spokesperson wrote in an email.

But safety concerns were raised yesterday as it emerged that the fire at the Address hotel is the third major skyscraper fire in the emirate since 2012 and raises some very serious safety questions for tourists and business visitors to Dubai.

Until Dubai changed its building regulations in 2013, many of the city's tallest buildings were clad in an aluminium-polyurethane panelling that is highly flammable when exposed to flame or even extreme heat.

In February 2015 the 86-storey skyscraper The Torch went up in flames, with the exterior of the building burning rapidly, and the interior being left largely undamaged.

This followed the November 2012 fire in the Tamweel Tower located in the Jumeirah Lakes Towers complex, with flames leaping up the exterior of the building as the aluminium cladding ignited. Fortunately, in both cases no lives were lost.

A detailed analysis by two legal partners at Dubai's Bin Shabib & Associates, estimates that before the new regulations came in to force, "hundreds of high-rise buildings in the UAE" were clad with flammable composite material panels.

Although it will require a forensic fire report to confirm whether the Address fire was another caused by flammable cladding, Dubai's 'The Blog' quotes city officials saying the blaze damaged "only the external interface".

And, according to sources, in March 2015, "flammable cladding materials, comprising plastic or polyurethane fillings - called a thermo-plastic core - sandwiched between aluminium panels, have been blamed for spreading fires at both the Al Baker Tower 4 and the Al Tayer Tower in Sharjah in 2012".

The UAE is a tourism magnet as millions flock each year to enjoy Dubai's endless shopping malls and winter sunshine breaks.

Dubai police said that the building was evacuated and 14 people were lightly injured. A medic said more than 60 people were treated for mild smoke inhalation and problems caused by crowding as they fled.

Witnesses described seeing flaming debris wafting down from the Address as occupants left, some running.

The New Year's fireworks display at the nearby Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building, is one of Dubai's most celebrated annual rites and attracted thousands of spectators - most of whom were evacuated before the spectacle went on as scheduled.

Irish Independent

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