Dubai hotel’s sprinklers ran out of water 15 minutes into fire

The extent of the fire was beyond the capacity of regular sprinkler systems to cope with a major blaze across multiple floors.

Fire doors in The Address Downtown Dubai Hotel helped to save lives in the New Year’s Eve fire that engulfed the building. Ahmed Jadallah / Reuters
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DUBAI // The sprinkler systems in The Address Downtown Dubai Hotel ran out of water 15 minutes into the fire on New Year’s Eve, according to Dubai Civil Defence.

The extent of the blaze was beyond the capacity of regular sprinkler systems to cope with a major fire across more than 40 floors. The pressure on the fire safety systems meant that the building had exhausted its water supply within 15 minutes. There was also no water for the firefighters’ hoses.

“The sprinkler systems worked as they were designed to do but this was an extraordinary fire. The water in that system drained quite quickly because of how many sprinklers were operating,” said Matt Bright of the Dubai Civil Defence operations and fire investigation team, detailing the unique challenges faced by the firefighters.

The blaze left 15 people with injuries that were mostly minor, while one person suffered a heart attack.

The National reported that the cladding on the building's facade did not meet fire safety standards.

On the sidelines at the Intersec security, safety and fire protection conference in Dubai on Sunday, experts described recommendations to Civil Defence that measures such as extended sprinkler lines be added to an updated fire safety code expected in March. These could help suppress fires caused by barbecues and shisha on balconies.

They proposed fire barriers as a possible solution for older buildings with combustible cladding that owners and developers cannot completely replace.

Dubai Civil Defence must approve the recommendations before the code is rolled out nationwide.

“If the entire cladding cannot be replaced, then every 10 metres provide a fire-retardant exterior facade system. If there is a fire on the ground floor the first barrier will stop it,” said Sajid Raza, an adviser and vice-president of Butler Engineering consultancy.

A member of the UAE Fire Code Council, Mr Raza participated in workshops with other consultants engaged with Dubai Civil Defence to draft a strong code.

“If you have a barrier every five or 10 metres, it’s to stop the leapfrog effect of the fire spreading up a building,” said David Mills, head of Forster Profiles Middle East, which designs and supplies fire-resistant facades.

“The idea is if there is a fire in one part of a building it does not decimate the entire building, so there is some barrier to at least limit the spread.

“This is one solution being proposed by the industry, maybe because it’s probably not cost-effective to rip out all of the existing facades on all of the affected buildings.”

Fire doors, meanwhile, helped save lives at the hotel, officials said.

“Almost all the fire doors stayed intact. That saved people, plus the hard work of our crews,” said Mr Bright. “Quite often in fires the smoke will kill people before the fire. The fire door not only holds the fire back it also holds the smoke back.”

However, protecting fire elevators designated for fire crews is vital as this could have helped firefighters reach the hotel’s upper floors quicker instead of taking the stairs.

Fire crews worked for 24 hours, while some slept on the street and had to be fed high-energy food to walk back up the tower.

“In the Torch Tower [blaze last March], quite recently before the fire they had put in a protection system so we were able to use lift to get forces up to the area of the fire,” Mr Bright said.

“Using a lift here could have helped our resources – they could have used the lifts [rather] than walk to the 60th floor.”

Firefighters reached The Address Downtown Dubai Hotel in two minutes and were swiftly able to clear 3,000 people, since teams were in place that day from 2pm for the New Year’s Eve safety arrangements.