London apartment blaze a stark warning for Australia

By Leith van Onselen

It appears that the towering inferno that engulfed London’s Grenfell Tower, killing several people (picture above), may have used cheap combustible cladding that enabled the fire to spread quickly up the apartment’s exterior walls. From The Brisbane Times:

The London tower devastated by a vicious building fire may have been installed with flammable cladding during a recent renovation.

Online records indicate contractor Harley Facades Limited installed “over-cladding with ACM cassette rainscreen” at Grenfell Tower.

ACM stands for aluminium composite material, which is the same combustible product blamed for fuelling nearly a dozen major high-rise fires globally in the past decade, including in Melbourne in 2014…

Mark, 45, a witness to the Wednesday’s London fire, said the Greenfell Tower had recently been renovated with cladding added to the outside. He believed the cladding caused the fire’s intensity.

“It was burning like paper, it wasn’t the building, it wasn’t the structure. That cladding – it was just like throwing fuel on the fire.” he said…

Veteran fire safety engineer Stephen Kip said combustible cladding could help a blaze spread up the facade of building, starting fires on many floors.

“All of the fire safety systems in buildings, like sprinklers, are in the inside, not the outside,” Mr Kip said.

Last year, there were several reports (here, here and here) about how similar cheap combustible cladding had been used to cover potentially thousands of buildings across Australia, which in November 2014 sent a Melbourne Docklands building into a towering inferno.

The problem is so bad that the Metropolitan Fire Brigade in Melbourne has identified up to 50 Melbourne city towers as being high fire risks due to the possible use of flammable cladding. Engineers Australia also released a report in 2015 claiming that 85% of strata units built in New South Wales were defective on completion, and warned that a major fire in a high-rise Sydney apartment is inevitable.

London’s apartment blaze is a stark warning to Australia’s regulators, who need to take action to mitigate the risk of a similar tragedy occurring to an Australian high-rise.

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  1. BabundaMEMBER

    Yup. It’s low quality mass consumption writ large. It’s one thing to have your toaster built in China to poor standards. It’s quite another to apply this style of manufacturing to 200,000 vertical tons of concrete and steel.

    • The country of manufacture is noy the issue. What matters is that this material was not properly tested (if at all). It is particularly egregious when it happens in a recently upgraded public building. The heads of those who approved the material should roll.

      • BabundaMEMBER

        Oh ffs. If you were doing a risk-based audit of these materials in service, the first thing you would do is separate Chinese imports from European imports and inspect the former. It may clash with your sjw values but it’s an empirical reality we need to face.

        But yes – the buck stops with the regulators who let this shit in

      • Babunda, I have seen crap material from many countries. You can argue that Chinese ones suck more on average, but a system that targets solely on country of origin would fail.

      • Ronin8317MEMBER

        It’s call ‘self regulation’. The company certifying the product must not have any contact with the goods being certified, thus eliminates their liability.

      • Yes, but we all agree self-regulation is an oxymoron. It simply encourages companies to appear like they are doing their job, when in reality they are creating a paper trail away from them. It doesn’t help manufacturers, only middlemen, lawyers or consultancies doing audits.

      • ” the free market is that it learns from its mistakes”

        Except we don’t have a free market. Moral hazard has seen to that.

    • ErmingtonPlumbingMEMBER

      Something I’ve always found appalling is the use of PVC in multistorey stack work (drainage) and it’s usr on stormwater risers as well.
      When I started my Plumbing career In The late 80s PVCs use in multistorey and hospital construction was outlawed,…all drainage pipework and penetrations through floors were in copper or cast iron pipe, grouted into the floors, they had a very effective fire rating. This is very important, as burnt out penetrations, create a chimney or venting effect, allowing the fire to rage out of control much faster, as air is drawn in much more aggressively at the lower levels of the fire, with it then being able to travel up the building, through these burnt out penos.

      PVC has been able to snake its way into multistorey and hospital construction through the use of “Fire collars”. Its all about Labor and material cost savings.
      I have never thought these collars as effective as using nonflammable pipework

      The company I worked for did the plumbing at CSIRO building, built on Delhi Rd Nth Ryde in the Early 2000s
      And an inferno was started, by a left on pie warmer apparently, in the construction worker lunch sheds that had been positioned in the basement carpark level.
      There was a large amount of penetrations above for Drainage risers All PVC, multiple​ different types of waterservices (normal hot and cold, deionised and other circulating stuff) all done in this rubbishy Aquatherm shit (plastic) that required heating irons to heat and melt together, along with electrical.
      The Fire collars, all failed spreading the fire up all the risers and into the floors above,…it caused 100s of thousands of dollars damage and turned into an extended insurance company finger pointing shit fight over who insurance was gonna pay.
      Having installed hundreds if not thousands of these collars, I was not in the least supprised.

      • Thanks EP – found that really interesting (and scary). not something ive ever thought of before !

      • davidjwalshMEMBER

        Thanks Ermo – I hadn’t thought of that, but bloody obvious as you explain. It never ceases to amaze me with all the increasingly intrusive OH&S regulation (how small businesses survive these days is beyond me), as a community we seem to be exposed to increasing levels of risk and plain inconvenience

    • Is that like Volvo and iPhones (which are made in China) are all crap ?

      The worst cars on EARTH – by a massive massive margin are American.

      How about you take your 1950’s racism back out to the shed where it belongs.

      China mass produces vast amounts of shit – they also lead the world in many, many areas – including things like quantum radar, stealth, hypersonic, anti-satellite, nano, bio-chems, super computing and vast array of other fields – while the west just sits their with the mouth slack jawed unable to comprehend why they are a decade behind (quantum radar totally negates western stealth). Hint – its because racists like you just think they are shit.

      Every country produces shit, most countries are able to also produce quality stuff. Its got nothing to do with being “Chinese”.

      Have you seen the cheap shit that pours out of Japan ? Its horrendous. They also produce some of the best electronics on earth.

      Grow up.


      • Paul, get down from that horse. We’re talking about one very specific category of product. In the trade they’re called “non-conforming products” and they almost universally come out of China. Would you like the statistics? I don’t disagree that America makes shit cars, Bangladesh shit clothes, Sweden shit furniture. Australia…well we don’t make anything…winning.

    • No. I wont get down from my high horse. You are not saying “non-conforming products”. All trades have them. Not just “THE TRADE” – you are no expert – champ. Every country does it in every category. Its not a “Chinese” thing. These companies 99% of the time are owned and operated by westerners.

      All countries do it. All of them. But you are not saying that – you are implying that China and its products specifically are dodgey – not the builders, not the owners, not the importers, not the regulators.

      You are just being flat out racist – because – you are a racist.

      I will be the first to admit that China is full of cheap shit – but so is every other country – every where is doing it – not just China – why ?

      Because its a global war on regulation. Its a global war on profit over environment, health, safety, standards, ethics, morality, etc.

      It has absolutely FUCK ALL to do with China and is 100% about the dodgy, cheap, regulatory avoiding immoral profit chasing greedy fuckers who clad the building with cheap, inappropriate materials.

      Where those materials come from is totally irrelevant. Absolutely irrelevant.

      If they went and got firelighters from Germany and stuck them on the outside – would it be the Germans fault ? No.

      • Yeah. China is “just like everywhere else”. It has entirely opaque and non-accountable government, untouchable and enormous state-owned enterprises that dominate the economy, and a justice / “rule of law” system entirely incompatible with our own – good luck getting “justice” there as a foreigner up against a Chinese enterprise.

        But to point this out is “racist”. Good on ya Paul.

      • Like the shadow banking money that floods this country, everything out of China should be considered suspect until proven otherwise.

        Please do proceed to charge me with hate speech.

      • @paul, I’m definitely no a racist but I do know, form many years of experience that wrt China the cheapest part of most products is the label. The label can say anything you want, extra words, extra symbols all basically free. In the end the label tells you whatever you want to read. Don’t want asbestos, well we’ll just remove that word, or maybe add a NO in front of our normal Asbestos stamp….it wont cost much to change the stamp.
        Trust me I’ve been told just this sort of thing many times in China.
        Most actual manufactures are honest and want to deliver you the product that you’re after however for each real manufacturer there are probably 10 companies that are just trying to on-sell products that they can buy / acquire cheaply in China. It’s these guys that’ll buy a “NO” stamp and run around stamping a thousand sheets of Chinese fibrous cement, intended for Chinese construction… that fell of the back of a truck.
        These are the guys that you really must avoid, yet they’re the guys that are most active in the export markets.

  2. It’s a tragic waste of life. Sounds like the fire alarm didn’t even go off, and only one fire escape. It really was a disaster waiting to happen.

    In my suburb the buildings are largely post 2005 and the fire safety standards appear to be infinitely higher. I witnessed one apartment hollowed out by a fire but all the apartments surrounding it were spared.

    Look forward to inevitable safety reviews that will follow, let’s get rid of asbestos from 1950s houses too.

    • There won’t be any safety reviews – the property lobby will just make sure that the standards for cladding are lowered. After all most of the buyers don’t actually live in these hi rise units – they are left empty or leased out to poorer people.

      • Is the problem the BCA standards, or compliance with those standards? There’s a big difference! There’s very good developers and very bad ones. You have to do your homework..

    • FeknameMEMBER

      I’m sure we’ll get lots of detail in the coming months. One of the things that is being said is that a lot of British highrises are built with the concept of each apartment being contained/isolated from other apartments. So if a fire breaks out, only the apartments near the fire are evacuated, the others are told to remain inside. This is why some buildings don’t have a building-wide alarm system.

      but the whole thing becomes a death trap if the outside is what is burning. Apparently it burned so hot and quick it smashed all the windows, which took away the isolation. Hopefully this will trigger something and we won’t see another such horrifying blaze for decades.

  3. reusachtigeMEMBER

    But this type of cladding looks good, saves money and increases profits and that’s what is important to everyone!

    • If you think Grenfell tower is profitable, you better watch the upcoming lawsuits and prosecutions.

      The one good thing about the free market is that it learns from its mistakes. The same can never be said of regulators, where mistakes and bureaucracies last forever.

      • Oh please, govts worldwide have know about this for years and done nothing. Any court proceedings will be staged ignorance with a “hoocanode” outcome in favour of capitalism.

      • hareebaMEMBER

        “The free market learns from its mistakes”. Like the banks have after the GFC. Dream on.

      • “The one good thing about the free market is that it learns from its mistakes.”

        I’m pretty sure that buildings have been built with cheap flammable cladding before, with similar results.

      • Senior fire inspector and leader in this area was on reddit yesterday and is going to the papers (Guardian) with a story – there is no way to prosecute anyone. No one will be held accountable.

        There is literally no one who can be held accountable as the comliance is a check list – which if checked is compliant. It was checked. Even if its a fire hazard, there are problems, there is a clear danger to life – if it is reported, checked and ticked – there is no recourse.

        Its completely fucked.

        Apparently its got something to do with legislation changes recently and of course Theresa May. There are buildings all over the place like this.

        Free markets rule. The Invisible hand. etc, etc, etc. People burning in towering infernos because regulation is a market distortion – just like destroying the entire planets atmosphere is more important than regulation and market distortion.

      • Apparently the residents of Lacrosse building in Melbourne which caught fire with similar cladding are paying $128,000 per unit ($40m cost for 312 apartments) to replace the cladding, strata fees have already been raised 5% to cover extra insurance, and the building is 50% unoccupied, unable to find tenants. So real costs involved, anyone buying an apartment will want to ask about the type of cladding used from now.

      • DominicMEMBER

        “No one will be held accountable …”

        But of course not. When have you ever seen a government or anyone in government held to account? That’s the beauty of being a public sector employee – you can be as reckless, incompetent and generally useless as you want at no cost to yourself. Along with a gold-plated pension it’s just another of the perks of the job. Who wants ‘free-markets’ when you have a gig like that instead.

      • FeknameMEMBER

        It gets the point across. A lot of people use ‘too soon’ in order to avoid doing anything about the problem. e.g. every time a school gets shot up. “Its too soon to turn this tragedy into political hay for your anti-gun lobby!”. Wait a respectful amount of time, and the argument goes back to the status quo.

        I think its important that we emphasise that stupid life-threatening decisions are being made for really stupid vain or greedy reasons.

      • Locus of ControlMEMBER

        I find myself siding with Walter fekname. It wasn’t the message, it was the delivery. Yes, Reusa makes a good point when he says that we can likely attribute this mess to aesthetics and greed, but undoes it when he says that’s what’s important to everyone. I’m pretty sure the residents, neighbours and emergency responders considered safety an important a factor as aesthetics or greed. So, yes, too soon. Maybe stick to pillorying those of us too dumb to buy investment property and hence remaining ugly as sin forevermore.

    • Ronin8317MEMBER

      They installed it because the the wealthy resident nearby don’t want to look at a crappy looking building in their neighborhood. It did it’s job.

  4. Beside the tragic consequences of this it also has implications for insurers and for the rental and resale value of these potential fire traps.

    • This may, in fact, be a blessing. Once the insurers cop a loss this sort of shit will become uneconomic to put up in the future because it will become uninsurable.

      • Even StevenMEMBER

        +1 to Scott and Peachy. Insurers will respond faster than changes to, or enforcing compliance with, building standards.

      • See. The free market works. Burn a building full of people alive in the most horrendous gas chamber of death imaginable – and the insurance premiums will force change.

        Cut regulation.

      • DominicMEMBER

        @ Paul
        Despite your sarcasm you are in fact correct.

        And let’s face it, regulation has failed miserably anyway. Why would doing more of what’s already failed suddenly work? You know the definition of insanity: doing more of what’s failed in the past thinking you’ll get a different outcome in the future.

        There is zero doubt: insurers will drive change here absent any government intervention.

      • drsmithyMEMBER

        Of course. I mean, this is the first high-rise fire in history, after all. Whoocoodanode ?

    • That one, at least, was social housing, so no implications for rent or price there.

    • Ronin8317MEMBER

      The insurer is covered. They will claim the building material is not build to Australian Standard and not pay a cent.


        And wrt the Lacrosse building in Docklands (MEL) that burned like a flare in 2014, the brass at LU Simon (builder) will face disciplinary action only and my bet is they’ll skate on the $20M re-do cost-preferring to hand that to the apartment ‘owners’.
        Reusa’s ‘family’ owns this country.

      • FeknameMEMBER

        ..and what will insurers say when the properly built property AROUND the shitstack gets damaged by said shitstack going up? Imagine a building in a CBD going up like this. The cost to local businesses during cleanup/repairs on top of the actual damage would have the potential to get pretty ugly. The premiums paid by the shitstack owner for a couple years will hardly cover it. There might also be people in the building with life insurance or other products on them. Payouts and lost premiums all around.

    • That is not the issue. The problem, in Australia at least, is that this cladding is allowed for low rise buildings, just not high rise ones. That creates a situation where builders could, intentionally or not, use the wrong cladding. If there are unsuitable materials in the market, irrespective of country of origin, they should be removed.

    • Ronin8317MEMBER

      Who is the bad guy? The one who makes the flammable cladding? Or the one who buys the flammable cladding because it’s cheaper, but charges the full price as the non-flammable one?

    • Made by western, most like Australian company, in China, to avoid Australian regulations, imports back into Australia.

      Nothing to do with being Chinese mate.

      This was a British building, owned by British, Clad by British. The could have gone and gotten French Nuclear waste and stuck it to the outside – would it be the French’s fault ?


  5. haroldusMEMBER

    What is even better is the number of recent aerial incinerators we have that have restaurants or shops on the ground level.

    Just waiting for a distressed owner looking for an insurance claim………

      • One Molotov cocktail can take out a huge tower now. Just have to throw it at the right tower.

        So much easier than flying a jet into a building! So much easier than building a bomb!

      • ErmingtonPlumbingMEMBER

        Yes peachy,….It just gos to show how dumb chaos seeking terrorists are.
        How many got killed in that stabbing attack?

  6. UrbanWastelandMEMBER

    It’s not just the cladding that’s a fire safety risk eye-opener…

    From the abstract: “…building codes and standards define design criteria with which architects and engineers must comply. The assumption is that these codes and standards reasonably address major safety concerns, and that compliance therefore ensures a minimum acceptable level of building safety. Sometimes, however, codes and standards do not evolve as quickly as design trends do: the risks of wind effects on tall buildings with operable facades are presently not addressed by Australian codes, nor by a range of other codes internationally. Australian experience shows that they are also typically underestimated in present standard design practice.”

  7. Why haven’t regulators banned the use of this cladding on buildings if it is a fire hazard? Why are architects designing such hazards onto their buildings?

    • Regulators are controlled by Governments, who themselves are controlled by Chinese developers.

      • FeknameMEMBER

        No need to emphasize the Chinese element here. I’ve worked with a lot of small and medium businesses in Australia. It takes some real guts to make it and more than a few businessmen would gladly sell their own mothers to get ahead. Just look at ‘phoenixing’ developers. We have plenty of homegrown bastards who will cut every corner if you don’t keep an eye on them. Buying cheap ‘insulating’ facade will be a no-brainer.

    • Ronin8317MEMBER

      Because it would cost too much to replace,and it would have made the price of those flammable apartments go down. EVERYTHING in this country exists to prevent house prices from going down, and the government will have to compulsory acquire all those apartments if they ban [email protected][email protected]

  8. TheRedEconomistMEMBER

    Tragic circustances yes…

    I heard many of the high density units in and around Auburn and Parramatta have high risk codes if a fire or a an incident occurs..

    So if a triple zero call is sent through from an address in these complexes, instantly 6 or so surrounding fire stations are sent as the the firies know there is a potential big blaze on there hands.

    If it is a normal house fire… one possibly two station would be advised.

    • Well that’s interesting. My understanding from reading the coverage of this fire is that virtually the entire resources of the emergency services were thrown at it within 6 minutes, but that made no difference for a number of reasons: (1) Nobody expected a fire of that size; (2) poor access to the site (which residents had warned about); (3) only one fire escape, which apparently caught fire; (4) no equipment for rescues from outside the building below the low floors; (5) rescues were carried out by firefighters with breathing equipment going floor to floor, checking units and taking people out. The authorities have now admitted no firefighters accessed anything above the twelfth floor, so basically anyone from that height on either got out under their own steam, or they’re dead.

      So, basically, the size of the fire overwhelmed all available resources and all their protocols for firefighting (which seem to have been “stay where you are and we’ll come and get you”).

      • bolstroodMEMBER

        It was the Aluminium in the product that caught my eye and triggered a memory of the Faulkland’s war where an aluminium built british destroyer was hit by a missile and burnt to the water line.
        Very difficult to extinguish,once aluminium cathes fire.

    • Canadian confidence fairy just shit its breekies……

      50% increase in listings as consumer psychology takes a hammering

      A prelude to our very own troubles which I reckon will easily out do whatever ails the Canadian markets. The loony and the Aussie dollar will be holding hands as they virtually step off the cliff in tandem.

      Keep posting those videos as a reminder to the rest of us that ‘something sinister this way comes….’

    • TailorTrashMEMBER

      Nice how the expert at the end is an Aussie ….or a Kiwi ? ……..both would be real experts in housing bubbles ! ………
      ……..and go you good thing !

  9. Diogenes the CynicMEMBER

    Surely this is a death knell for the low quality high rise apartment properties here? No one will want to buy these fire traps going forward and I just know that to redo the cladding with something that doesn’t act like a fire chimney will cost so much money that once again no one will want to pay for the redo. Once insurance companies stop paying out after a similar disaster then they frankly have almost no value.

    • I believe we had a highrise fire in Melbourne not long ago caused by flammable chinese cladding. So much for our safety standards. I wouldn’t take one of them skykennels for F R E E !………They are a poisoned chalice.

    • TailorTrashMEMBER

      I wonder what sort of coverage this London story is getting in China ……as the owners of “investment “appartments in Sydmelb must be thinking
      how safe their investment Skyboxes are ……………and no market to sell them as locals don’t want them ……when another of these clad buildings go ……and it will ….this could be an “oh shit moment ” …….fun fun fun ..

  10. So glad Scott Morrison is modeling Australia’s affordable housing reforms on the world-leading British public housing system

  11. Any journalist worth their salt in Melbourne could write a Walkley Winning article if they just went into some of the Dockland or Southbank apartments and checked the fire safe of the building. There are apartments with the fire stairs are fully of stuff being stored. Same with the fire hose cupboards. Because the apartments are in some cases full of students, they are stuffing stuff in any where they can find as a storage solution.

  12. I couldn’t help but think how effective this type of attack could be after the media covered the burning building as if it was infact a terrorist attack. Imagine this, a coordinated group of individuals take occupancy of multiple, citywide or even world wide high-rise apartment buildings on the 4the floor. While staying there undetected they become familiar with the fire system and its vulnerabilities and at a certain time and date bypass the protection and set their units on fire. The attack would be unprecedented and authorities would have no way of controlling the catastrophe because their resources would be to far stretched. A truly horrifying thought, short units long houses

    • two plus twoMEMBER

      Terrifying thought, and even scarier is it doesn’t seem too far fetched to suggest it is a feasible threat. Like someone else commented above, I wouldn’t live in one of those units for free.

  13. I couldn’t help but think how effective this type of attack could be after the media covered the burning building as if it was intact a terrorist attack. Imagine this, a coordinated group of individuals take occupancy of multiple, citywide or even world wide high-rise apartment buildings on the 4the floor. While staying there undetected they become familiar with the fite system and its vulnerabilities and at a certain time and date bypass the protection and set their units on fire. The attack would be unprecedented and authorities would have no way of controlling the catastrophe because their resources would be to far stretched. A truly horrifying thought, short units long houses

  14. ErmingtonPlumbingMEMBER

    I’m thinking of the NSW department of Fair tradings, “free” asbestos checks, which were heavily advertised on the radio and in the papers here.

    They were looking for a fibrous roof insulation product, used extensively by a Canberra based company called “Mr Fluffy”, in the 70s and early 80s (I think,…you can look it up)

    The only deemed, safe remediation​, of a property with this product in the roof, is demolition!

    Once identified, the property can not be legally rented out or sold, and if you missed the closing registration period, you get no State government compensation, which was initially available.

    I see/predict this situation to extend to ALL “fibro” housing over the next decade,….so we are talking, over 100 thousand homes in Sydney alone! (Including mine!,… fibro shitter underneath vinalcladding)

    Owners of these Nonfire compliant appartments, will find themselves in the same boat I suspect.

    • The Mr Fluffy scandal is biggest in the ACT as that was where “Mr Fluffy” operated. Nasty stuff the loose asbestos as it creates microscopic particles that get into everything (Carpets, Furniture, Clothes). Every single crack in those places could be harboring asbestos particles.

      The solid stuff is much easier to deal with as long as it is not broken. Then you have a problem.

  15. Apparently the NSW government is admitting that approximately 2500 buildings are now clad in this chinese shit that ignites like napalm. Im sure all these new apartments buildings in Sydney are gonna sell, and resell like hotcakes ROFL

  16. I can’t help but think there have been alot of symptoms described above, but isn’t the root cause inflation?

    That is to say proper, tested, quality building products (and labour associated with building) have now inflated in price to the point where builders/developers etc cut corners by buying the cheaper, inferior product, with all of its predictable consequences.
    Now of course this doesn’t show in inflation stats because it is assumed ProductA = ProductB, when in reality this is not the case if you considered quality/product testing etc.

    • The greatest inflation has been in the price of land.

      At the residential housing level, the quality of the house decreases as the cost of land increases. Labour costs are an issue, but so are costs of living in Australia. And if property speculation is all that we do, then any increase in wage goes straight back into land. It’s a viscous, and ultimately unproductive, circle.

  17. DarkMatterMEMBER

    What did you expect to happen?

    This is what you get when Bankers are in control. Everything is a numbers game to them. A giant game of Monopoly. Big SkyKennels full of the poor and unemployed which are just tokens on the game board.

    What is the point of a megacity full of SkyKennels?

  18. CLADDING is not the only hazardous Chinese sourced building material… On ANZAC day 2015 a hailstorm hit western Sydney and approx $100m worth of recently constructed industrial warehouses in Huntingwood collapsed. It was just random luck that this happened on a weekend when minimal workers were in these buildings.. Investigators have found that structural steel used in the buildings did not meet specification.. and of course it was all Chinese sourced steel..