Construction

Dubai Torch fire: Façade materials called into question

Management company behind The Torch refutes experts’ suggestions that faulty materials were used

PHOTO: The Torch fire on February 21 started around the 50th floor and later spread higher up the building. Credit: Twitter

Doubts have been raised over the quality of the façade material used in The Torch building in Dubai following a dramatic fire that left many residents of the 79-storey tower temporarily homeless.

Some experts have called for stronger measures to be taken to ensure the safety of residents in high-rise buildings, following the blaze in the tower in late February.

Civil defence officials are yet to comment on the cause of the blaze, but fire and safety experts within the construction industry have pointed the blame at the façade.

READ MORE: Dubai Torch fire: 101 apartments still inaccessible, says insurer

READ MORE: Dubai Torch fire-safety systems ‘worked as planned’

IN PICTURES: After the fire – Residents return to The Torch, Dubai

VIDEO: Massive fire engulfs Torch skyscraper in Dubai

READ MORE: Ten killed in fire at illegal workers’ residence in Abu Dhabi

READ MORE: Top five causes of fire in buildings

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On viewing videos and images of the burning building, it appears that the insulation material behind the façade caught fire and then spread across some 20 floors.

Matthew Kitson, the regional director for the consultancy Hilson Moran in Qatar, said that should not have happened.

“That façade [on The Torch] should not have burnt. Period. Something has gone fundamentally wrong there,” he told Big Project ME.

Kitson said more needs to be done to ensure that the materials being installed or used on a building are up to scratch, when it comes to fire and life safety.

“You can design a building façade for safety, you can specify materials that you think are safe, and you can test the material on site and test it before you put it into the building. But the bit that’s not happening is that there are safety criteria that are applied to building materials, and quite frankly, some of them aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on. Therefore, they’re not properly tested,” he said.

“What we’re advocating is that the government police the installation of materials onsite – on pretty much every job, because we’re talking about people’s lives here. That’s not happening enough. There is the Civil Defence, but they’ll check the sprinkler systems and the fire safety systems, but not the actual materials themselves.”

Garald Todd, head of fire and life safety at the engineering consultancy WSP Middle East, agreed that the façade could have been to blame. He pointed to a similar incident in 2012, when the Tamweel Tower in the Jumeriah Lakes Towers neighbourhood was gutted by a fire that started behind its façade.

“The problem that we’ve seen with Tamweel and this building is more related to façade materials and the appropriateness of the façade materials. It’s quite remarkable because the photographs [of the scene] are quite dramatic. And it looks really very significant but the reality of it was it’s not that significant of a fire in terms of threat to human life because it was the exterior of the building that was on fire.”

In response to media enquiries about building materials used, Kingfield Owner Association Management Services, the building management company for the Torch, is quick to refute suggestions that faulty materials were used.

“All the elevation materials used for the construction of The Torch were approved by the authorities and the tower was built in complete compliance with relevant building codes. Approvals from relevant authorities were obtained prior to the completion certificate being issued by the authorities,” the firm said.

READ MORE: Dubai Torch fire: 101 apartments still inaccessible, says insurer

READ MORE: Dubai Torch fire-safety systems ‘worked as planned’

IN PICTURES: After the fire – Residents return to The Torch, Dubai

VIDEO: Massive fire engulfs Torch skyscraper in Dubai

READ MORE: Ten killed in fire at illegal workers’ residence in Abu Dhabi

READ MORE: Top five causes of fire in buildings

READ MORE: Safety experts discuss implementation of fire systems in region

The Torch fire on February 21 started at around 2am on around the 50th floor and later spread higher up the building, and did not cause any fatalities. Four people are reported to have suffered minor injuries.

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