As many as 400 families were left homeless after fire broke out at Al Tayer Tower in Sharjah on April 28. Image Credit: Asghar Khan/Gulf News

Sharjah: Hundreds of skyscrapers across the UAE are wrapped in dangerous non fire-rated aluminium cladding panels that may put lives in danger in the event of a fire, Gulf News has learnt.

A top executive with the cladding panel industry said non fire-rated panel cores are made of low density polyethylene, a petrochemical product that burns within minutes compared to certified fire-retardant panels that repel fire.

The conversation with the industry executive, who spoke on condition of anonymity, came on the heels of a third major tower fire in the last six months in Sharjah that rendered hundreds of families homeless on April 28.

"At least 500 towers in the country have non fire-rated panels installed over the last 25 years," he said. "The cost of removing a non-fire panel is not small, it's about Dh100 a square metre. A 40-storey building could cost Dh500,000 [to replace bad tiles with proper fire-retardant panels]."

Need for legislation

Without any legislation in place to force mandatory installation of fire-retardant materials, he warned that 100 high-rises now under construction in the UAE may also be enclosed with gleaming composite panels that do not meet international fire-safety codes.

"This has become a national problem," the senior executive said. "This has to be looked into very seriously by the authorities. The right legislation needs to be passed. Non fire-rated panels should be banned when they are used over 10 stories. Non fire-rated panels will burn like paper."

A Sharjah Municipality official said there is no ban on the use of non fire-retardant panels on high-rises. "We are responsible only for the design of the building and not the materials used," the official said. "Contractors must provide [fire-retardant] certificates for each material used in construction for it to be approved by Civil Defence."

Napoleon Soldevilla, a senior fire protection engineer at design firm Burthill said: "People are accustomed to using non fire-retardant materials. Moreover, fire-resistant materials are more expensive."

— With additional inputs from Mariam Al Serkal, Staff Reporter