Old high-rise buildings in Dubai need thorough risk assessment for fire safety, says WSP

A comprehensive review of the fire safety status of Dubai’s older existing high rise buildings must now be carried out following the Torch Tower blaze, say experts.

Andy Dean, head of façade engineering at WSP, has been studying the blaze and its aftermath.

“We are starting to build with far more awareness of this issue,” he said. “But now there needs to be a thorough risk assessment by qualified people of the fire safety status of the existing building stock.

“The emphasis here should be on the older buildings – the ones that were constructed prior to the fire safety codes. These are always evolving and we are continually building more safely. But there needs to be a close look at the older building stock.”

The cause of the fire at the 330 metre residential building in Dubai Marina is currently under investigation.

But engineers studying the damage and an analysing photographs say a number of themes have emerged – with the major one being that the degree and direction of the spread of the flames and the falling debris  indicating that the façade is the most likely place which could have spread the fire.

Initial indications are that that façade itself was not resistance fire-rated, as it was not in such close proximity to another building to require this level of safety.

Instead its fire safety status would have been calculated to include time of first responders and resident evacuation speeds as well as fire-fighting equipment such as sprinklers – with the emphasis being on control of the flames.

However outside factors can affect these calculations – including high winds which were prevalent at the time of the Torch Tower fire.