Skyscraper Fire Exposes Fire Protection Flaws in UAE


A recent skyscraper fire in Dubai has further exposed fire protection flaws in the United Arab Emirates. The most recent skyscraper fire was at a residential tower in the Ajman emirate, north of Dubai and was the third of its kind in the space of twelve months.

The fire consumed at least two residential towers in the city of Ajman causing great deals of panic amongst residents and bringing the surrounding streets to a standstill.

It is reported that the fire initially started at a building in the Ajman One residential cluster of 12 towers and quickly spread to at least one other tower. Images of the fire show bright yellow flames reaching several stories high spreading rapidly up the side of the building.

Thankfully the buildings were evacuated and no fatalities have been reported, although several residents were treated for breathing problems and minor injuries.

This recent fire is the latest in a series of three major skyscraper fires over a twelve month period and follows the devastating fire that engulfed the five-star Address Hotel on New Year’s Eve.

What Caused the Fire?

Although the ignition source of the fire is still unknown, it is suspected that the aluminium cladding used on the outside of the building is what caused the fire to spread so rapidly.

Many of the tall buildings in Dubai use a combustible Aluminium Composite Panel (ACP) cladding to insulate the buildings. These panels are aesthetically pleasing, lightweight and easy to maintain, which is why they are a popular choice for construction. However, these panels are highly combustible and can burn very quickly, causing fires to spread swiftly.

ACPs were quickly prohibited for use in new buildings, and existing structures that contain these flammable materials were ordered to take extra fire precautions – including additional fire-retardant panels and exterior sprinklers.

Despite the director of the preventive safety department for Dubai Civil Defence’s insistence that only ten to twenty percent of Dubai’s buildings were covered with ACPs it is suspected that, like with the Address Hotel, this combustible cladding was used for the Ajman tower.

What Next?

In light of recent events, it is clear that there are some serious holes in the UAE’s fire protection code. These recent fires call for a much better understanding of the fire behavior of modern building designs and the construction materials that are used. “Domino-fires” – where a fire starts in one building causing burning panels and debris to fall to the ground and ignite surrounding buildings, are also a huge cause for concern.

The UAE fire code was due to be updated earlier in the month but has been delayed to allow revisions to help reduce further skyscraper fires.

Thankfully reliable fire alarm and suppression systems were able to warn the residents and keep the fires at bay long enough for a quick and full evacuation, avoiding any serious casualties. Authorities were notified and were able to bring the blaze under control relatively quickly, however, due to the rapid speed at which the blaze spread thousands of residents are left without their homes and belongings.

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