On New Year’s Eve 2015 a fire broke out near the 20th floor of Dubai’s Address Downtown Dubai hotel. The fire rapidly spread up the 63-storey building and reportedly took over 20 hours to bring under control.
Although there were no fatalities, 16 injuries were reported and extensive damage was caused to the building and surrounding streets.
Not an isolated incident
This isn’t the first fire to happen to one of Dubai’s skyscrapers. In April 2012, 59-storey residential skyscraper, Al Tayer Tower, was devastated by a fire caused by a discarded cigarette butt. Later that year Tamweel Tower – a 35-storey mixed-use tower – fell victim to yet another cigarette related fire. Then, in early 2015 the 79-storey Marina Torch Tower suffered a fire caused by a grill located on one of the building’s balconies.
In each instance fire spread rapidly to taller parts of the buildings, displacing hundreds of families and damaging surrounding streets and vehicles.
What caused the fire to spread?
In each case, like many other supertall buildings in Dubai, aluminium composite panels (ACPs) – made up of layers of polyurethane sandwiched between aluminium cladding – were used to insulate the structure. However, although these panels are lightweight, easy to maintain and are aesthetically pleasing (helping to create the shiny metallic surfaces that Dubai adores so much), polyurethane can be flammable. These panels can burn quickly, causing fires to spread rapidly.
After the two fires in 2012 spread so quickly ACPs were held accountable and were prohibited for use in new buildings. Existing structures that employ these flammable materials were ordered to add additional fire-retardant panels and exterior sprinklers to reduce the spread of fire.
Although there is currently no confirmation, it is likely that ACPs were implemented in the Address Hotel’s design.
Alarm and sprinkler systems were in place to tackle the blaze at the Address Hotel. However, it is reported that due to the rapid spread of the fire, the building’s water supply was depleted just 15 minutes into the fire, leaving no water available for the fire fighting team.
Experts are now calling for an updated fire safety code to be put in place to prevent further fires in similar buildings. One recommendation is to install fire barriers every 10 metres to help contain fires and prevent them spreading further up the building.
Other recommendations include protecting elevators to enable fire crews to reach fires more quickly without having to take the stairs.
Thankfully no one was fatally injured during the fire at the Address Hotel in Dubai. Reliable fire detection systems were able to provide enough warning to initiate evacuation procedures and get the buildings occupants to safety before the fire became too out of hand. We hope that new regulations can be put in place before any other potentially devastating fires can occur.
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