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Docklands apartment fire: hundreds of high-rise towers to be investigated for fire danger















Aluminium cladding from China has partly been blamed for the rapid spread of a blaze that took just six minutes to travel from the 14th floor to roof of the 23-storey Lacrosse Building last November.

Amid growing calls for an urgent review of building industry regulations, there are concerns hundreds of apartment buildings could have been constructed using materials similar to the Alucobest cladding which contributed to the Docklands blaze.

The apartment building goes up in flames.

The apartment building goes up in flames. Photo: Twitter

Chief executive of Fire Protection Association Australia, Scott Williams, said the cladding used at the apartment tower was widely used in the construction industry, along with other materials that failed Australian design and safety standards."Nobody actually knows [how many are affected] and that's the big concern," Mr Williams said.

"There are tens of thousands of non-compliant buildings with a range of non-compliant products."

The Docklands fire started in early hours of November 25, when an unextinguished cigarette on an eighth-floor balcony spread to a nearby air-conditioning unit, causing $5 million damage and forcing hundreds to evacuate.

An investigation has since been launched into the building surveyor and LU Simon Builders after the MFB revealed in a post-incident report on Monday that the Alucobest cladding used in the facade had not been tested to Australian standards.

On Tuesday the Victorian Building Authority said they were trying to find other locations where Alucobest or other non-complaint facade materials had been installed, by contacting key builders, surveyors and plumbers involved in projects above three-stories.

The VBA said the Municipal Building Surveyor would decide whether any identified Alucobest would  be ripped out and replaced with a safer material.

Fire engineering expert Jonathan Barnett said those decisions would likely come down to the risk posed to the public – for example, in sprinkler-protected buildings it would be difficult for facades without balconies to come in contact with fire above street level.

Dr Barnett said at this stage it was impossible to know how many facades in Melbourne had used "non-compliant" materials, but noted that aluminium cladding had been used in the facades of many new buildings in Docklands.

He said cladding such as Alucobest, which is lined with foam rather than mineral fibre, was attractive to some because it was cheaper and a better insulator than less-combustible alternatives.

The MFB report exposed uncertainty over who should ensure builders use safe materials that comply with the Building Act. It is understood council's Municipal Building Surveyor generally only becomes involved after a problem is discovered.

Dr Barnett, technical director of Red Fire Engineers, said extra financial resources may be required, because "there is a public expectation that when we buy an apartment it is going to be safe."

A hotline (136 186) has been set up for anyone concerned about non-complaint cladding in their apartment buildings.


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