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Cladding fire risk ignored by officials

The deaths were revealed at a 2012 symposium on fire science and technology in China which also detailed the danger of composite aluminium cladding, being imported from China to Australia and used on high-rise developments nationwide.

Despite evidence of the deadly potential of the cladding being in circulation for three years following the symposium, virtually nothing has been done in Aust­ralia to crack down on the use of similar non-compliant flammable aluminium panelling on high-rise towers.

The issue came to light in Australia in November when Melbourne’s Lacrosse tower, in the high-density Docklands precinct, caught fire and it was found that the flammable composite alumin­ium cladding used was non-compliant to Australian building standards and was predominantly to blame for the spread and damage of the blaze.

The paper presented to the 2012 symposium outlined details of three high-rise fires that were directly attributed to composite aluminium cladding.

“In China, several fire cases involving extreme fire spread upon exterior combustible claddings have occurred in recent years, and caused serious property damage and life loss,” the 2012 paper says.

“As a result, severe losses from the fire cases shocked the public and fire safety researchers. Thereafter, it was realised that fire safety features of exterior wall claddings should be considered very carefully, especially for high-rise buildings.”

The paper revealed that in a 2010 residential building fire in Shanghai, 58 people were killed and 71 injured when the aluminium cladding caught fire in a 28-storey tower during renovations.

The fire spread on the outside of the tower from the ninth floor to the 28th floor in seven minutes.

In a 2009 fire in the Television Cultural Centre in Beijing, one firefighter died and seven people were injured when fireworks to celebrate Chinese New Year ignit­ed the cladding on the 32-storey tower.

“Building fires normally spread from lower floors to upper, or from internal to external,” the paper says.

“The TVCC fire exhibited totally different spread patterns. The fire developed initially on the roof and spread from upper floors to lower and from external to internal.”

In 2011, in Shenyang in China’s northeast, fireworks ignited the aluminium cladding on a 37-storey apartment building with the fire taking less than 20 minutes to climb up the exterior from bottom to top.

Experienced firefighters who attended the Lacrosse blaze reported a fire pattern never before seen in Australia, where the fire roared up the side of the building via the cladding to the top floor. Since then, it has been revealed that cheap aluminium cladding from China has been widely used on high-rise apartment complexes against Australian regulations.

The Victorian Building Authority has launched an investigation into 170 high-rise complexes in inner Melbourne.


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