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Dubai toughens rules fire after high-rise blazes

DUBAI: Dubai yesterday announced tougher fire rules in a bid to minimize risks after several spectacular blazes that have ripped through skyscrapers in the modern Gulf emirate. Major fires have hit Dubai high-rises in recent years and spread quickly, mostly due to flammable material used in cladding, a covering or coating used on the side of the buildings.

Civil Defense Lieutenant Taher Hassan Al-Taher announced the new regulations at a security exhibition during which authorities also launched Dubai’s new fire and safety code for the emirate. According to Taher builders must abide by a new requirement to ensure that the flammability of the cladding is as close to zero as possible. “There is a requirement to minimize it to zero,” Taher said.

Builders will also have to regularly carry out maintenance on the cladding panels and replace them after a certain date, he added. “There is a timeline for all cladding (and) there is maintenance for everything. By that time they’ll have to change it,” Taher said, speaking in English. Those who violate the rules will face fines up to 50,000 dirhams ($13,623), he added. He said he didn’t know who would pay for the recladding, which is expected to be costly. Asked how authorities would ensure buildings change their cladding, he said: “That’s still on the table.”

Dubai is home to Burj Al-Khalifa, the world’s tallest tower. The modern city state has experienced a real estate boom over the years with hundreds of skyscrapers built in a short lapse of time with many tiled with flammable cladding. Most towers built before 2012 have reportedly used non-fire-rated exterior panels. Fires have hit several high-rise buildings in the Dubai, famed for its record-breaking skyscrapers. On New Year’s Eve 2015 a huge blaze ripped through the luxury Address Downtown Hotel, injuring 16 people just a few hours before a spectacular fireworks display nearby.

The blaze was broadcast live worldwide, but authorities went ahead with the festivities despite the inferno, with residents and tourists gathered nearby to watch a dazzling fireworks display even as smoke billowed out of the tower. The fire sparked panic as the fire spread along the facade of the Address Downtown Hotel but only 16 people were injured. The Address Downtown remains closed and under repair. Yesterday, new cladding tiles could be seen installed on its exterior. Emaar, the state-backed developer behind the tower, did not immediately respond to questions about the new cladding.

Dubai has promised new fire regulation to govern construction companies, developers, building material suppliers and owners for months. But in announcing the new rules yesterday, authorities focused on details like how many pages the new law runs – 1,384 pages as opposed to 707 previously – as opposed to what they require. Dubai Civil Defense said the new law was not yet available for the public to read.

The United Arab Emirates has “proven to have the lowest number of fire casualties,” said Sajid Raza, a member of the UAE Fire Code Council, putting the rate at 0.23 person per every 10,000 people. The UAE’s rate of fire casualties is “much lower than many advanced countries,” he told a conference at the same exhibition. Taher said the low number of fire casualties is due to awareness campaigns and fire drills that are conducted at schools, hotels and residential buildings regularly.

Electric short circuits have been behind most of Dubai’s fires, according to Dubai Civil Defense chief Major General Rashid Al-Matrooshi. “More than 70 percent of fires in building are caused by electricity,” he said. Dubai is looking into introducing nanotechnology that could put out the fire instantly, he said. “To avoid using large fire extinguishers, a (nanotechnology) piece that is 2 centimeters by 2 centimeters can be used to fight the cause of the fire,” he told the same forum. He said Dubai is hoping to start production of such devices in the first quarter of this year. These micro-extinguishers reportedly release fire extinguishing gas as soon as the temperature reaches a certain level.

In July last year, a fire gutted the 75-storey Sulafa tower in Dubai marina, with the flames spreading up quickly at least 15 floors of the building. In November 2015, a fire engulfed three residential blocs in central Dubai and led to services on a metro line being suspended, although no one was hurt. In Feb 2015, a blaze gutted one of the emirate’s tallest buildings, also in the Dubai Marina neighborhood. It destroyed luxury flats in the Torch tower and prompted authorities to evacuate nearby blocks. In 2012, a huge blaze gutted the 34-storey Tamweel Tower in the nearby Jumeirah Lake Towers district. It was later revealed to have been caused by a cigarette butt thrown into a bin. – Agencies

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