Fire safety improvements costing more than Dh50 million on the 15-storey Adriatic building on The Palm could be replicated across Dubai in hundreds of other high rise blocks, fire safety experts said.
The building is part of the Oceana complex ravaged by fire in 2016 after an electrical fault in a penthouse apartment caused exterior cladding to alight.
Like many other buildings in the emirate to have suffered fire damage in recent years, the flammable cladding was cited as a contributing factor to the devastating spread of flames.
“What was clear from the fire was that it identified areas of the cladding that was susceptible,” said John Stevens, managing director of Asteco Property Management, which runs the buildings.
“When the fire occurred we were waiting for the updated fire code to come out, so there wasn’t an approved panel in place at the time.
“Rather than replacing the panels with more panels, we have used a concrete render — so we have switched a material that was flammable with something that just can’t burn.”
The evolving Fire & Life Safety Code has now banned the use of cladding with a polyethylene core similar to that found in panels at Grenfell Tower in London, where 72 people died in a fire in June 2017.
Other buildings across Dubai are likely to follow the lead Asteco has taken on a combination of fire safety measures to protect the Adriatic building in future.
A series of major fires in residential buildings have put the spotlight on flammable cladding and the materials used in modern towers.
A fire ripped through Zen Tower in Dubai Marina in May, and other high profile Dubai fires have occurred at The Torch building (twice), Tamweel Tower and the Address Hotel in Downtown.
In 2017, there were almost 200 fires recorded in residential buildings, demonstrating the need for every precaution to be taken.
Areas of The Palm building facade where old cladding was fitted have been retrofitted with the A2 standard panels, now compulsory in new buildings under the new safety code.
These panels have a stone core, making them much less susceptible to igniting than many existing panels.
The Adriatic building has been repaired under the management group’s insurance policy.
All residents who were temporarily re-homed at the nearby Fairmont Palm Hotel & Resort have moved back in.
A tendering process is due to begin to carry out similar work on six other buildings in the Oceana complex, where work is expected to take at least 14 months.
The improved fire safety work completed is having a substantial impact on insurance premiums.
“Our annual insurance bill before the fire was about Dh900,000,” Mr Stevens said.
“After the fire, that went up to Dh3.6 million.
“With the works we have completed, we have reduced that down to Dh2.5 million and there is a commitment from the insurance company to see a substantial reduction for the other buildings we have.
“It is a huge cost to replace existing cladding, so the challenge for other buildings that need this kind of work will be funding.
"That could add a lot of money to service charges.”
Fire safety consultants have said the management of every building should be looking at ways to reduce risk.
Engineering firm WSP is one company completing extensive fire safety reviews.
“Fire risk reviews are happening across Dubai, and elsewhere,” said Andy Dean, head of facades at WSP.
“We are looking at each building to see what can be done.
“There is a variety of options open to management companies to address their fire risk, it could be the partial removal of cladding, the introduction of cavity barriers, fire breaks or other thermal barriers.
“It could involve the introduction of other active fire suppression systems, there are many options available and the best solution is often a blended solution of these alterations.”
In February, a manual was released to help civil defence, local and federal authorities identify and prioritise buildings with flammable cladding.
The National Fire Protection Association released its online Fire Risk Assessment Tool to help authorities around the world rate buildings more than 18 metres high with a combustible facade and suggest measures to reduce the danger.
“We are seeing a growing appetite from developers and facility managers to engage in this kind of work,” said Mr Dean.
“That is being driven by a need to lower risk to people and property.
“The community is becoming increasingly aware of a risk from certain cladding materials, so people are making informed choices now about where they want to live and how much they pay for their property.
“People with families want to live in safe buildings, and the owners are reacting to that.”