A fire broke out in a 35-storey high-rise in central Dubai near the world’s tallest building early on Monday, racing up the side of the structure in the same way seen in other blazes fuelled by flammable cladding.
A resident at the 8 Boulevard Walk development told the Associated Press that the apartment block has cladding which officials planned to replace after a similar blaze tore through a landmark tower on New Year’s Eve in 2015, but the cladding was not replaced across the entire building.
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, and nor did the city-state’s Dubai Media Office.
More than 12 hours after the blaze burned out, Dubai police and civil defence officials had still not acknowledged the inferno which saw fire trucks and rescue vehicles surround the building.
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 under way” and that residents can only 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 at around 2.30am, with housekeepers and building guards racing through its floors to check apartments on each floor, the resident said. Dubai Civil Defence later said all the building’s residents had been safely evacuated without injuries.
It said it “arrived at the scene five minutes after the operations room was alerted of the fire at 3.11am”.
“A Dubai Civil Defence 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 were not designed to meet stricter safety standards and were often put on to buildings without any breaks to slow or halt a possible blaze.
That includes the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire in London that killed 72 people in the greatest loss of life in a blaze on British soil since the Second World War.
Regulations are now in place for new construction in Dubai regarding the cladding.
In 2017, a civil defence official said those with flammable cladding on their buildings would “have to change it” under normal maintenance schedules, but it remains unclear if that has been enforced in the 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 upmarket 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 this year, Orient Insurance lost an appeal for a 1.25 billion dirham (more than £299 million) payout to Emaar over the fire after it tried to blame the developer. The judgment said the building cladding might have contributed to the spread of the fire but was not the cause of it.
Emaar’s shares rose slightly on Monday to close at 6.23 dirhams (£1.49) on the Dubai Financial Market.