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Cladding Eyed as Culprit in High-Rise Fire

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

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A massive fire that engulfed at least three residential high-rise buildings Monday (March 28) in Ajman, near Dubai, has sparked new concern over a cladding material widely used in the region.

The blaze quickly ripped through the towers 6, 7 and 8 at the Ajman One complex Monday evening, according to the Gulf News. The Ajman One complex consisted of 12 towers with 3,000 apartments.

Five people sustained minor injuries, the report said, citing police officials. Hundreds of evacuated residents watched as the buildings burned top to bottom into the night, sending huge chunks of debris to the ground, CBS News reported.

Many of the onlookers, as well as Ajman Police, took photographs and videos and shared them on social media sites.

“We are all very distraught,” Bismillah, a Pakistani tenant of one of the gutted towers told Gulf News. “We have lost everything.”

As of midday Tuesday, firefighters had reportedly vanquished the flames, and crews were cleaning up the debris as the site cooled from the massive inferno, Gulf News noted.

The cause of the fire is under investigation; however, several reports suggest that building’s cladding may have been responsible for the blaze’s fierce spread.

Spate of Fires

The blaze is the fifth such tower fire in the Dubai region since 2012, Gizmodo reports.

Before Monday, the most recent blaze engulfed a 63-story luxury hotel in Dubai on Dec. 31, 2015, injuring 16 people.

In February 2015, a similar blaze zipped down one of the world’s tallest residential towers, named The Torch.

Problematic Panels

Experts say such fires are escalated by the use of insulating aluminum composite panels on the outside of the buildings, according to numerous reports.

The cladding material, which contains a flammable core that can burn quickly once ignited, is estimated to cover more than 70 percent of the buildings around Dubai, reports said.

United Arab Emirates banned the use of the cladding in new buildings in 2013. Meanwhile, owners of existing structures with the material have been ordered to install additional fire-safety measures, such as sprinkler systems; however, reports relate that many have failed to complete the necessary upgrades.


Tagged categories: Accidents; Aluminum; Building codes; Building Envelope; Building envelope; Building facades; Building owners; Cladding; Developers; Fire; Fireproofing; Health and safety; Middle East

Comment from john lienert, (3/30/2016, 8:27 AM)

too much money.....too much construction,,,,,too fast

Comment from Robert Tinker, (3/30/2016, 8:28 AM)

But why didn't the buildings disintegrate in mid-air and fall to ground in a big pile? They were on fire from top to bottom. Oh, I guess that only happens to trade centers on 9/11.

Comment from Steve Black, (3/30/2016, 8:39 AM)

Seriously Robert? Poor taste. There will never be enough time to create humor out of those events.

Comment from M. Halliwell, (3/30/2016, 11:19 AM)

I agree Steve: Poor form, Robert! But to answer the question in a realistically, the cladding is the flammable part, can burn up the cladding and cause a lot of damage, but it will generally be superficial in nature. Damage the structural core of the building; however, and it will "fall to ground in a big pile." John, I agree...and it sounds like enforcement of the added safety measures needs some big teeth to garner some more compliance.

Comment from John Gillis, (3/30/2016, 11:21 AM)

@ Robert Tinker: We don't need conspiracy theorists, who aren't aware of the science of materials and of fires. That science explains why one building -- smashed with thousands of gallons of fuel in a jet, melting steel that was not fully protected with life-saving asbestos fireproofing is structurally compromised, while another (with a flammable exterior cladding), burns bright and hot on the periphery, but doesn't necessarily get into the core structure (assuming it is even steel, which may not be the case.)

Comment from Douglas Pearce, (3/30/2016, 12:55 PM)

Of course Robert everyone will choose to ignore the fact that Trade Centre Building 7 which wasn't hit at all also came down in it's own footprint, lol. The science of materials totally explains how TWO planes can take down THREE buildings, lol. As a matter of fact there are approximately 3000 architects and engineers that agree with you.

Comment from Tim Davis, (3/30/2016, 12:57 PM)

The performance of the structural elements should be reviewed to understand their performance in an event such as this. This allows folks to understand and modify existing structures with foam core cladding. Secondary to this is a need to potentially modify the foam cores to reduce flammability going forward. Isocyanurate cores are inherently flammable, and there is a need for a fire retardant package to be incorporated into the iso or in conjunction with the iso to reduce flammability in the panel. The underlying issue is that the cladding contractor understands the flammability of the panel, but other trades don't. So an electrician, plumber or other trade opens a panel and conducts work that ignites the foam core.. How do you prevent this issue of "ignorance" ( not meant to be negative ) of other trades when conducting work?

Comment from M. Halliwell, (3/31/2016, 12:53 PM)

Douglas, you do know that Building 7 caught fire from the adjacent towers and burned for 7 hours following the collapse of the Twin Towers, don't you? You did see the video of the Building 7's outer structural steel members failing due to the heat of the building fire, right? Most buildings aren't designed to take that sort of punishment for that length of time...and with office towers, that often will lead to collapse. The Delft University of Technology proved it (fire started by a coffee vending machine that basically took the tower down in less time than WTC 7. Now, can we get past the conspiracy theories and get back to the fact that the building cladding in Dubai is an issue that needs to be resolved?

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