Bill Law, Gulf Analyst with BBC News reports on the rash of high-rise tower fires occurring in Sharjah and Dubai within the past year and the potentially disastrous consequences of lax building codes, uneven or non-existent enforcement by local building officials, and negligent conduct of recently-urbanized, immigrant occupants unaccustomed to living in such buildings. The title of his article alludes to the 1970’s cinematic portrayal of a massive high-rise fire in Irwin Allen’s Towering Inferno. Actor Paul Newman is featured as the signature, 138-story, residential tower’s architect who when confronted by San Francisco Fire Battalion Chief Steve McQueen about building code compliance, learns that the slippery project engineer, played by Richard Chamberlain, has made numerous unauthorized substitutions to a critical electrical system components causing overloading and subsequently igniting the massive fire.
The BBC interviewed Thomas Bohlen, Director for the Middle Eastern Center for Sustainable Design. By Mr. Bohlen’s estimation, there are over 500 buildings in the Gulf States that are clad using a composite aluminum sheathed panel with a combustible thermoplastic core. The use of this type of building material is restricted to less than 4 stories in United States building codes and has not been used in the United Kingdom since the 1980’s. Mr. Bohlen notes that the thermoplastic core panels are very durable, long lasting and easy to maintain but ignite easily.
Although the United Arab Emirates have now enacted new building codes prohibiting these aluminum clad thermoplastic panels, there remains a large quantity of high rise residential buildings already featuring these panels. The recent fire at Al Hafeet Tower 2 in Sharjah completely gutted 10 floors of the 20-story building and required 2 hours for firefighters to extinguish. Tower occupants were displaced and told to sleep in their vehicles overnight. Local Security officials have arrested an Ethiopian and a Filipina for leaving their apartment locked with an unattended gas stove that led to the ignition of flammable materials stored on their balcony.
Gulf States such as Qatar have allowed unprecedented growth of these high rise towers in their capitol city of Doha, but without concomitant budgets for code enforcement or investigation into the cause of these increasingly frequent fires.
BBC’s Bill Law also points out that insurance companies are likely to lead to efforts to address fire and life safety deficiencies due to the magnitude of potential losses they face.
Abraxas principal Jeffrey Luney has first hand experience with high-rise fire investigations, insurance claims for loss replacement and design enhancements for increased safety. He played an instrumental role in the aftermath of the catastrophic First Interstate Tower fire in Los Angeles, California that occurred in May 1988. Refer to the project description on the Abraxas Architecture website here:
Read the entire BBC News article here:
Read about the Sharjah fire and resulting 10 floors completely gutted here: