DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Exposed wiring likely sparked the New Year’s Eve blaze that engulfed a 63-story skyscraper in Dubai just hours before a nearby fireworks display at the world’s tallest building, police said Wednesday.
Dubai’s police chief Maj. Gen. Khamis Mattar al-Mazeina said investigators ruled out any criminal cause for the fire at The Address Downtown.
But he refused to say whether the fire was caused by negligence on the part of the tower’s builder, Emaar Properties. He also downplayed the idea that the building’s cladding may have caused the rapid spread of the blaze, though the quick-moving fire resembled others that have engulfed buildings in Dubai and elsewhere covered in the panels.
“An electrical short circuit can happen anytime and these wires are on the exterior and can be affected by the elements like heat, wind, humidity,” al-Mazeina told journalists gathered at police headquarters. “Our job is to determine the cause of the fire and to avoid any misinterpretations of the accident.”
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Emaar Properties, which has built much of Dubai’s downtown and the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, had no immediate comment. The company’s stock, at 5.69 dirhams ($1.51) a share before the fire, stood at 4.64 dirhams ($1.26) on Wednesday — a decline of 18 percent.
Emaar has hired an outside contractor to assess and restore the damaged tower, its burned-out hulk now wrapped in a giant beige tarp. Emaar plans to reopen the hotel, based on orders from Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.
Speaking under a portrait of Sheikh Mohammed, al-Mazeina said forensic evidence gathered by investigators pointed to the wiring causing the blaze. They presented images of the wiring, and another investigator, Ahmed Mohamed Ahmed, said the wiring in question was in a vent between the 14th and 15th floors.
The Address Downtown included a luxury hotel with nearly 200 rooms, along with more than 600 residential units. Rentals of a one-bedroom can run $70,000 a year.
The Dec. 31 fire started around 9:30 p.m., racing up the sides of the building. Authorities nevertheless went ahead with the fireworks show, and the building smoldered and flamed into the next day.
Fourteen people suffered minor injuries in the blaze, but it raised new questions about the use of aluminum-composite panel cladding on skyscrapers. It was at least the eighth such fire in the United Arab Emirates alone, and similar blazes have struck major cities across the world, killing dozens of people, according to an Associated Press survey.
The panels’ flammability can be significantly reduced by replacing some of the plastic inside the panels with material that doesn’t burn so easily. However, when installed in uninterrupted rows, as they are on many Dubai towers, more flammable types of cladding provide a straight line of kindling up the side of a skyscraper.
Emaar has not released specific details about the type of cladding used on The Address Downtown. The state-run The National newspaper of Abu Dhabi has reported that the cladding on the building was the fire-prone type seen in other blazes.
A nationwide UAE survey of existing buildings has been ordered in the wake of The Address Downtown fire, and additional guidelines will be put in place in March to ensure new buildings are constructed to a higher standard, Emirati authorities have told the AP.
Associated Press writer Fay Abuelgasim contributed to this report.
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