All eyes were on Dubai on New Year's Eve in 2015 when a fire quickly raced up the side of a 63-story building, The Address Hotel. Thankfully, there were only a few injuries. The fire spread from one floor to the next, feeding off the flammable exterior cladding. It wasn't the first exterior cladding fire in Dubai. According to this paper, Dubai had experienced at least three similar fires.
After the fire, many were asking how a flammable material could have been used on the exterior of a high rise building. It was revealed that the product had been tested, but not to NFPA 285. NFPA 285 tests the flame propagation characteristics of a material. According to this news story, it was only tested for "fire containment and not flammability."
Over the weekend, Dubai announced more restrictive regulations on exterior cladding. The specifics of the new law have not yet been made available. However, it is being reported that all existing buildings will be forced to replace non-compliant cladding with compliant cladding before a certain date. If an existing building has a fire prior to the replacement, all non-compliant cladding must be replaced with materials that meet the new regulations. In addition, people could face prosecution and fines for not following the new law. You can read more here.
These types of fires aren't exclusive to Dubai. They've happened all over the world. In 2014, the Lacrosse Apartments in Melbourne, Australia had a large fire. The exterior cladding was found to be a major contributor. In a recent decision, the Building Appeals Board denied the owners' request to install sprinklers on the balconies instead of replacing the exterior cladding.
The events of this past week show the importance of considering the fire characteristics of external cladding. Luckily, these fires have not resulted in serious injury and/or deaths, but they are costly. Hopefully, the push continues to properly test materials for the safety of cities across the world.