Sharjah fire: Cigarette blamed as flammable cladding to be stripped off 150 buildings

Officials said retrofitting of high-rises would be necessary after a huge tower blaze last week

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Flammable cladding on as many as 150 buildings in Sharjah will have to be replaced, after it was confirmed to be a major factor in a huge high-rise tower blaze last week.

Police and fire chiefs said widespread retrofitting would be necessary following the blaze in Abbco Tower on May 5.

A type of aluminium composite panel cladding that was widely used during the UAE's construction boom was a significant factor in the speed at which flames spread.

Maj Gen Saif Al Shamsi, head of Sharjah Police, said investigators were "90 per cent" sure the fire was caused by a cigarette butt or shisha coal left in a first floor corridor.

“The fire then spread to one of the apartments on the first floor and quickly spread onto the other ‎floors due to the presence of cladding, which are flammable plates,” ‎Maj Gen Al Shamsi said on Sunday.‎

He said about 100 of the 333 apartments in Abbco Tower have been inspected to date.

Inside one of the burnt out flats in Abbco Tower, Sharjah. Wam

Of those, 26 were completely destroyed, 34 suffered smoke and water damage and 40 had damage to their doors. He said 33 vehicles on the street and inside the building suffered damage from flames and falling debris.

No blame or liability has been brought against anyone at this stage.

Maj Gen Al Shamsi said Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Ruler of Sharjah, had directed officials to review and replace aluminium composite panel cladding to ensure the safety of residents.

As The National reported last week, the 48-storey, 190-metre tower was constructed with a type of cladding that was banned on new builds nationwide in January 2017.

Builders must now use more expensive non-combustible cladding that better halts the spread of flames.

But the authorities have not until now ordered that older buildings be retrofitted.

Abbco Tower was built in 2005 and opened in 2006, long before the federal fire code was updated.

Colonel Sami Al Naqbi, head of Sharjah Civil Defence, said “a total of 150 old buildings have been listed, and the cladding will be removed".

He did not state how the work would be paid for but said "many owners have responded" already.

The cost stripping cladding from a building and replacing it would be in the millions of dirhams.

The reconstruction and removal of cladding at Dubai Marina's Zen Tower was estimated at Dh25 million, and the building is only 15-storeys high.