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Grenfell House Fire Provokes Investigation into Cladding on NSW Towers

Sydney, Australia – 20 June 2017

Flammable cladding blamed for the rapid spread of the fatal blaze that occurred at Grenfell House on Wednesday, June 14, in West London was pinpointed as contributing to a past fire in a high-rise apartment building in Melbourne, which only narrowly avoided loss of life.

A fire at the Lacrosse Apartments building in Melbourne’s Docklands on November 25, 2014 is strikingly similar to the recent tragedy in North Kensington, which has left at least 79 people dead (as of June 19) and many more injured.

The rapid spread of the Lacrosse Apartments building fire – which was sparked by a cigarette on an eighth-floor balcony and raced up 13 floors to the roof of the 21-story building within 11 minutes – was blamed on flammable aluminum-composite cladding that lined the exterior concrete walls. The same type of cladding was installed on Grenfell House in 2016, as part of a GB£10 million (US$12.6 million) renovation.

Aluminum-composite panels have a polyethylene or plastic core and an aluminum coating. It is a cheap building material used worldwide to clad high-rise apartment buildings, despite reports of fires involving aluminum cladding in residential towers in France, the United Arab Emirates, South Korea, and the US.

In a report into the investigation of the Lacrosse fire, the Melbourne metropolitan fire brigade said the rapid vertical spread of the fire was “directly associated” with the external cladding: “Had the external wall cladding been of a non-combustible type, the likelihood of fire spread beyond the level of ignition would have been greatly reduced,” it said.

Initial reports from the Grenfell fire suggest the gap between the cladding and the external walls of the building acted as a chimney, funneling flames up the side of the building: “[A fire] doesn’t travel up concrete, does it, so it’s got to have travelled up something and the cladding was there, so prima facie the cladding has been the cause of the fire spreading up the external parts of the building,” fire safety expert Graham Fieldhouse said.

The recent fire has motivated the New South Wales government to present a plan to identify and replace at-risk cladding, which officials estimate covers at least 2,700 buildings in the state, The Times reported. It could leave building owners liable for multi-million dollar costs – which may, in turn, lead to a rush of legal action against builders, developers, and even inspectors.

For more on this story, go to The Guardian and Metro.

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