PETALING JAYA: Did Malaysia very nearly have its own Grenfell Tower tragedy? Just how many buildings are there in the country which use polyethylene, or polyfoam, as cladding?
These are just some of the questions in the aftermath of the blaze at the Employees Provident Fund building in Jalan Gasing here as the authorities revealed that a spark from renovation work caused the polyethylene cladding to catch fire.
Fire and Rescue Department deputy director-general (operations) Datuk Soiman Jahid said the polyethylene cladding was similar to the one used on the exterior of Grenfell Tower in London.
“The cladding that was used is made of material that is highly-flammable... It is made of polyethylene (polyfoam), which can easily catch fire.
“It should not be used in any building, let alone a government agency building,” he said yesterday.
He said such materials, though previously allowed, was no longer considered safe.
Grenfell Tower is a high-rise block of public housing flats in North Kensington, London.
In the early hours of the morning of June 14 last year, a fire broke out, killing 71 people, including many children, one stillborn baby, and at injured least 70 people.
A refrigerator in a unit on the fourth floor of the building caught fire, but was quickly put out by firefighters who responded to an emergency call.
However, as the firefighters were leaving, they noticed that the fire had spread to the cladding on the exterior of the flats and was spreading quickly.
The fire burned for 60 hours before being extinguished, with newspaper reports crediting the block’s Muslim residents for
the fact that the death toll was lower than what it could have been.
As the fire took place during Ramadan, Muslim residents were awake for sahur and alerted their neighbours, saving more than 220 people.
An inquiry soon followed, with evidence pointing to the cladding being the cause of the fire spreading rapidly.
An independent review of building regulations and fire safety is in progress in the United Kingdom.
‘FIRE CAUSED BY SPARK THAT IGNITED CLADDING’
FIRE badly damaged the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) building in Jalan Gasing yesterday.
However, most of the damage from the blaze, which was believed to have started about 11.50am, was to the exterior of the building. Only a small portion of the interior of the six-storey building was damaged.
The Fire and Rescue Department and police confirmed that all 527 employees and their clients made it out of the building safely, with no injuries reported.
It is understood that the fire may have started on the first floor at the back of the building, where renovation was being conducted.
Fire and Rescue Department deputy director-general (operations) Datuk Soiman Jahid said a spark from the work was believed to have set alight the cladding on the exterior of the building.
He said the cladding was made of a highly flammable material, which was not recommended for use in construction.
He said as the fire was limited to the exterior of the building, no important documents were damaged or destroyed in the blaze.
He said there were some damaged documents on the top floor of the building, but they were not important.
“We were told that the affected part on the top floor did involve some files and documents, but they weren’t that important. Other than that, the damage is mostly on the exterior of the building.
“The fire was brought under control by firefighters before it could spread into the office space and building,” he said.
He said the hot weather could have caused the fire to spread quickly.
Deputy district police chief Superintendent Ku Mashariman Ku Mahmood said people in the building, including members of the public, were safely evacuated to the public assembly area within the compound.
About 70 firefighters were deployed from several stations in the district as soon as the Fire and Rescue Department received a distress call at 11.52am.
At least four fire engines and two turntable ladder engines were used in the operation.
Firefighters took about an hour to completely douse the flames.
The fire, as well as the thick smoke, could be seen from several kilometres away.
The scene brought traffic to a standstill along the Federal Highway, Jalan Gasing and Jalan Universiti. Peripheral roads leading to the area and the Federal Highway were also affected.