Dubai Municipality may not investigate cause of Tecom flats fire

Civil Defence is investigating the cause of the fire, but Dubai Municipality says the building is out of its jurisdiction and it cannot examine whether aluminium cladding helped fan the flames.

Workers cleaning the balcony of one of the damaged flat in Saif Belhasa building in Tecom area in Dubai.
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DUBAI // There may be no municipal investigation into the fire that destroyed nine homes in a 13-storey apartment block on Saturday because, the civic body says, the building is out of its jurisdiction.

The fire started on the fourth floor of Saif Belhasa residential tower in Tecom at about 9.30am and in less than an hour it had spread to all the apartments directly above it.

Civil Defence is still investigating the cause of the fire.

Residents believe the aluminium cladding on the outer structure caused the fire to spread more rapidly and have raised their concerns with building management.

As the fire spread, the aluminium panelling broke up into blazing chunks and fell on to the road below. The fiery debris threatened the safety of residents fleeing their apartments and damaged cars that were parked below.

"Aluminium cladding can be a highly flammable item," said Gorashi Elsheikh Abdelghani, the building specialist with Dubai Municipality's building department. "For us, it requires an inspection and system approval from the municipality as well as the Civil Defence to ensure they are installed correctly and safely."

Cladding is used as a form of thermal insulation, Mr Abdelghani said, and as a decorative feature in buildings. "The municipality places high restrictions on using these items," he said.

Aluminium by itself is not combustible, it is the insulation material in the cladding that catches fire.

No inspection was carried out at Saif Belhasa because it was built in a free zone and was, therefore, not subject to certain civic body bylaws.

"Buildings in free zone areas are not within Dubai Municipality jurisdiction. They have their own permits and regulations for everything," Mr Abdelghani said. "The municipality can only step in if there is evidence of a health and safety risk."

Mr Abdelghani said he was not sure whether the municipality would be asked to investigate.

Residents said they had approached building management for more information.

"It's a very uncertain situation; people are worried and talking about this aluminium because it seemed like it helped the fire spread very quickly," said Mustafa Ahmedou, a resident.

Another tenant, Ruiz Coelho, who spent the night with friends on Saturday due to smoke and water damage to his apartment, had similar concerns. "We want to be sure this is fire-rated material. The aluminium sheets were melting and falling and it scared us how fast it burnt. "

All debris, including the charred cladding, had been cleared by the end of the day.

Residents of the nine gutted apartments have been moved to hotel apartments for two days.

Electricity was restored on Saturday night to apartments not affected by the fire, while telephone, internet services and lifts were working yesterday.

The Dubai Technology and Media free zone authority, which oversees Tecom, did not answer specific queries about the use of aluminium cladding at the tower.

However, it said in a statement: "We are working closely with the authorities to investigate the exact cause of the fire. Additional information will be released as and when it becomes available."