Some Dubai residents woke up to a familiar sight early Friday morning: flames engulfing an enormous skyscraper. In fact, the fire that spanned 50 of the 86 stories of the massive Torch Tower was all too familiar. The same skyscraper burned in 2015, and the causes appear to be related.
Luckily, there were no reported deaths or injuries in the latest Torch Tower fire. Unless local regulators do something about the building’s flammable aluminum cladding, however, there’s a decent chance the building could burn again. At 1,100 feet tall, Torch Tower is one of the tallest buildings in Dubai, and it’s covered in aluminum panels that are filled with combustible plastic. So when even the smallest flame lights up the exterior, the blaze can spread with breakneck speed.
That appears to be what happened on Friday morning. The conditions of the fire eerily echo the deadly Grenfell Tower fire that killed at least 80 people in London in June. In that case, it appears that the Grenfell Tower cladding may have violated regulations, and the Dubai government has also acknowledged the risk of installing flammable cladding on tall buildings. The construction technique has been linked to three separate tower fires in Dubai, and the government has since restricted the use of aluminum cladding on new construction. Those rules currently don’t cover older buildings that might already have the material installed.
And so, skyscrapers in Dubai keep catching on fire. The fact that the Torch Tower has gone up in flames twice in two years’ time isn’t just frightening. It almost seems inevitable due to known risks of its building materials. Who knows if this latest fire will force the Dubai government to crack down further on building regulations. Let’s just hope another catastrophe doesn’t strike before that happens.