Fireworks go ahead but Dubai hotel fire raises concerns over safety of skyscrapers

(From agencies)

Even as an investigation is under way into the cause of the fire in the 63-storey Address hotel in Dubai on New Year’s Eve, what surprises many is that no lives were lost.

Smoke billows from the Address Downtown Hotel in Dubai on January 1

Smoke billows from the Address Downtown Hotel in Dubai on January 1

However, the incident raises questions about safety in emirate’s skyscrapers.

Until building regulations were changed in 2013, many of Dubai’s tallest buildings used aluminum-polyurethane paneling which is flammable even when exposed to extreme heat of the Middle East city.

While only experts can say whether the fire in the Address hotel was caused by flammable material such as plastic or polyurethane fillings placed between aluminum panels, Dubai’s ‘The Blog’ quoted city officials as saying the blaze damaged “only the external interface”.

Witnesses reported seeing flaming debris wafting down from the Address.

A March report in the Abu Dhabi-based newspaper The National says although it is mandatory for new buildings in Dubai to install safety features such as exterior sprinklers, majority of the city’s 250 high-rise buildings have thermo-plastic core as cladding material which is combustible.

An AP report said most firefighters were watching the Address fire from the ground 12 hours after it broke out, at one point unable to use a water hose on a ladder truck.

However, they later regained water pressure and began spraying the building.

Dubai officials downplayed the fire and tried to draw media attention to the New Year fireworks at the 168-storey Burj Khalifa located near Address.

“There are no injuries, thank God … of course, it will not affect the celebration,” Maj. Gen. Rashed al-Matrushi, general director of the Dubai Civil Defence, told a live broadcast of the planned celebrations.

Dubai draws hordes of tourists, and al-Matrushi did not want to dampen the spirits of people gathering near Address to watch the fireworks.

Categories: Asia Times News & Features, Middle East

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