Blaze roasts side of downtown Dubai high-rise in latest fire

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — A fire broke out early Monday at a 35-story high-rise in downtown Dubai near the world’s tallest building, racing up the side of the structure in the same way seen in other blazes fueled by flammable siding material.

A resident at the 8 Boulevard Walk told The Associated Press that the high-rise has cladding that officials planned to replace after a similar blaze tore through an iconic tower on New Year’s Eve in 2015. However, that cladding was not replaced across the entire building, said the resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

Emaar Properties, the giant state-backed developer behind 8 Boulevard Walk and the nearby Burj Khalifa, which towers over the burned high-rise, did not respond to requests for comment about the building’s cladding. Nor did the city-state’s Dubai Media Office.

Dubai Civil Defense later said that all the building’s residents had been safely evacuated without injuries.

Fire investigators could be seen by an AP journalist at the site, looking through balconies and pointing out damage from the blaze. A letter sent by Emaar to tenants of the building said “a thorough investigation is underway” into the blaze and that residents only can be let back in after authorities give the all clear.

The fire raced up one side of the building, while other sides appeared untouched. The damage appeared particularly intense around the fourth floor.

The blaze started around 2:30 a.m., with housekeepers and building guards racing through its floors to check apartments on each floor, the resident said. Dubai Civil Defense said it “arrived at the scene five minutes after the operations room was alerted of the fire at 3:11 a.m.”

“A Dubai Civil Defense spokesperson confirmed that Dubai high-rises comply with strict structural and fire safety standards that conform to international codes and regulations,” a later statement from the Dubai Media Office said, without naming the official.

While some types of cladding can be made with fire-resistant material, experts say those that have caught fire in Dubai and elsewhere weren’t designed to meet stricter safety standards and often were put onto buildings without any breaks to slow or halt a possible blaze. That includes the 2017 Grenfell Fire in London that killed 72 people in the greatest loss of life in a fire on British soil since World War II.

Regulations are now in place for new construction in Dubai regarding the cladding. In 2017, a civil defense official said those with flammable cladding on their buildings would “have to change it” under normal maintenance schedules, but it remains unclear if that’s been enforced in this city-state, one of seven that comprise the autocratic United Arab Emirates.

On New Year’s Eve in 2015, a blaze raced through the Address Downtown, one of the most upscale hotels and residences in Dubai near the Burj Khalifa. Some 15 people were injured in the fire and the evacuation. Dubai police ended up blaming exposed wiring for the blaze.

In September of this year, Orient Insurance lost an appeal for a 1.25 billion dirham (more than $340 million) payout to Emaar over the fire after it tried to blame the developer. The judgement said the building cladding might have contributed to the spread of the fire but was not the cause of it.

Emaar stock rose slightly Monday to close at 6.23 dirhams ($1.70) a share on the Dubai Financial Market.

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