Dubai's Zen Tower reopens two years on from devastating fire after Dh20m revamp

Safety measures have been stepped up, including the removal of fire-risk cladding at a cost of Dh1 million

After two years out Zen Tower residents can now return

After two years out Zen Tower residents can now return
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A Dubai "community" has been reborn as residents return to a tower block devastated by fire two years ago following the completion of a Dh20 million refurbishment project.

An electrical fault in a first floor apartment sparked a blaze which tore through Zen Tower on a baking hot summer's day in May, 2018.

Thankfully, no lives were lost as wind speeds of 30 miles per hour whipped-up flames across flammable cladding that encased the 68-flat high rise in Dubai Marina.

Residents who founded a new owner’s management association expressed huge relief at finally being able to move back into their homes this week.

“It is our family home, so we are all relieved to be going back at last”, said Sherif Shamel, who will move his young family back into his eighth floor apartment this weekend.

“My children are very happy to be moving home as the youngest was born when we moved into the building in 2012.

“It is a small community, just 15 floors, so it is a better place to live than the huge tower blocks elsewhere in Dubai.

“Everyone here knows each other.”

Before we were scared a fire may come, now we feel more secure

On the day of the fire, Mr Shamel was at home with his wife when the fire alarm sounded and smoke began pouring into corridors.

“My wife started screaming and I told her just to run,” said Mr Shamel, who has three children aged 8, 11 and 14.

“There was too much smoke so we panicked and took the stairs down to safety.

“With the new cladding and other fire breaks the building will be one of the safest in Dubai.

“It is a celebration this building is now opening again.”

As the building was built in 2002, some materials used in the original construction were no longer available.

To retain Zen Tower’s original features, consultants from the National Engineering Bureau and Rose City Contracting Company painstakingly sourced near-matching materials where possible.

Contractors even developed their own paint colour in keeping with the original decor in the corridors and lobby.

“Everyone had strong memories of how the building was, so we have tried our best to restore those,” said Tariq Ali, a construction manager with RCCC.

“Children would play here and parents saw their families grow, so it was almost like restoring a museum to keep their memories alive.”

Initial reports issued by police said the fire worsened as a result of flammable furniture and high winds.

The first five floors of the building, that backs on to the Sheikh Zayed Road Abu Dhabi interchange, were worst hit forcing more than 100 residents to flee their homes.

The building smouldered for several days and water used by Civil Defence crews destroyed much of the electrics and lower floors, including the basement swimming pool and gym.

Of the 68 apartments, 39 were completely rebuilt.

Developers reduced the risk of future incidents by inserting a curtain wall to act as a fire break.

Air-conditioning and communication systems have been modernised while cladding cited as an accelerant in the blaze has been completely removed and replaced with a safer alternative at a cost of Dh1 million.

Similar flammable aluminium composite panel cladding used across the country has been blamed as a major factor in scores of tower block fires in recent years.

The most recent at the Abbco Tower in Sharjah on May 5 led to calls for as many as 150 buildings in the emirate to have similar cladding replaced.

The Seven Tides Owner Association Management was hired by residents to manage Zen Tower’s reinstatement as a residential property.

After securing building insurance, management allowed residents and owners to move back in this week but said regulations on using shisha, barbecues or balcony smoking will be much tighter.

Despite the devastating fire, residents like Alam Ihsanullah have not been deterred from living in a high-rise building.

Alam Ihsanullah, a resident and board member of Zen tower.
Zen Tower was badly damaged when a blaze spread through the building in May 2018.
(Photo: Reem Mohammed/The National)

Resident Alam Ihsanullah is glad to have the opportunity to return home to Zen Tower. Reem Mohammed/The National

“This is a lesson for all buildings, not just Zen Tower,” said Mr Ihsanullah, a fifth floor resident who moved temporarily into the adjacent tower to oversee the refurbishment.

“Before we were scared a fire may come, now we feel more secure.

“The majority of those staying here before are moving back.

“All of the owners are normal people like me, not tycoons, so we have been paying our own rents on top of the other costs for the past year or so.

“My family spent 10 years in Zen Tower so it is our home, we are all quite excited about moving back.”