Emirates’ skyscrapers are killers in waiting, says fire expert..

AP Photo/Sunday Alamba

AP Photo/Sunday AlambaThe Address Downtown skyscraper in Dubai on Friday.

Hundreds of Dubai’s tallest buildings are infernos waiting to happen, a leading fire safety expert told The Daily Telegraph Friday, after a spectacular New Year’s Eve skyscraper blaze raised concerns about the safety of buildings throughout the Emirates.

Flames engulfed the exterior of the luxury 63-storey hotel The Address within seconds, tearing up the outside of the building “like paper,” according to onlookers and causing a stampede of New Years revellers.

The fire — the third to hit a Dubai skyscraper since 2012 — has renewed fears about the use of highly combustible materials on hundreds of skyscrapers throughout the U.A.E.

The cause of the fire remains unknown.

“No one has died yet, but there will be fatalities sooner or later,” said Phil Barry, a fire safety consultant with Gloucester-based CWB Fire Safety who has worked extensively in Qatar and the U.A.E.

Incredibly no one was killed in the incident at The Address, which lit up the Dubai skyline three hours before midnight.

Dubai authorities Thursday confirmed that 16 people had suffered mostly minor injuries, with only two victims, including a pregnant woman, remaining in hospital overnight for precautionary observations.

At the heart of safety concerns is the use of polyurethane and aluminium composite cladding on buildings throughout the height of the emirate’s building boom. The material was only outlawed by new regulations in 2013.

AP Photo/Sunday Alamba

AP Photo/Sunday AlambaThe aftermath of the fire Friday.

The same phenomenon was observed when the 86-storey skyscraper The Torch went up in flames in February 2015, just three years after a near-identical blaze at the Tamweel Tower located in the Jumeirah Lakes Towers complex in November 2012.

The National newspaper reported in March 2015 that “inflammable cladding materials, comprising plastic or polyurethane fillings” were also blamed for spreading fires at both the Al Baker Tower 4 and the Al Tayer Tower in Sharjah in 2012.

Barry, who served 30 years as a U.K. firefighter before becoming a senior lecturer at the national fire service college in Gloucestershire, estimates that some 70 per cent of Dubai’s high-rise buildings could be clad in the flammable materials.

He added that it is nearly impossible for visitors in Dubai and other U.A.E. destinations to tell at a glance if their hotel or accommodation block is clad in inflammable material.

An employee at a shop at the base of the tower who asked not to be named described the moment the fire took hold of The Address, which opened in May 2008 and is the 18th-tallest building in the city and 93rd-highest in the world.


KARIM SAHIB/AFP/Getty ImagesSmoke billows from the Address Downtown Hotel Thursday.

“The flames raced up more quickly than anyone can imagine. It was horrible. Horrible to watch,” he said.

“We thought there must be so many people in there, but then the stampede began. It is a miracle no one was killed.”

The cost of retro-fitting buildings with exterior sprinklers or spraying them with fire-retardant materials is considered to be prohibitively expensive and likely to be the subject of time-consuming litigation between developers and owners over who should foot the bill.

Dubai government’s media office issued a civil defence statement saying that security services were “investigating the cause and circumstances of the fire” at The Address but passed no further comment.

With few public records available, it is unclear how many Britons remain at serious risk of another every time they step into hotels and office blocks in UAE that use inflammable materials.


KARIM SAHIB/AFP/Getty ImagesNew Year’s fireworks near the Burj Khalifa in Dubai early Friday.

Survivors of The Address inferno Thursday relived their lucky escapes and spoke of the terror of realizing that the hotel and residential complex where a one-bedroom flat can cost $100,000 a year in rent, was going up in smoke.

Anita Williams, an Irish jazz singer, was performing with her band in the luxury hotel’s pool area when she first glimpsed the flames, but said within a minute it was impossible to exit through the hotel’s main entrance.

“It was the fastest thing I have ever seen in my life,” she said. “It was like a towering inferno,” she told The Telegraph. “We were screaming, we were terrified, we dropped everything — we were running for our lives.”


TwitterA view of the Address Downtown Hotel in Dubai, where a massive fire broke out during New Year's celebrations.

An unnamed photographer clung to a window-cleaner’s rope as he teetered on the edge of a hotel balcony from where he had planned to photograph the midnight fireworks display.

After phoning the emergency services, he waited for almost half an hour to be rescued. “The rope was my saviour,” he said.

01/01/2016 20:41  By: National Post