Flammable cladding fear as fire rips through Melbourne high-rise

By Leith van Onselen

Australia’s apartment market is literally going up in flames, with another high-rise apartment block in Melbourne’s CBD catching alight and believed to be constructed using the same flammable cladding used on London’s Grenfell Tower and Melbourne’s Lacrosse Tower. From The Age:

This morning’s apartment fire was at the Neo200 building on Spencer Street. The building is 41 storeys and features 371 residential apartments.

The building’s construction was completed in 2007 by LU Simon, according to the building’s website.

The same builder was involved in the Lacrosse building, which was devastated by fire in 2014…

FB chief officer Dan Stephens has told media that the Spencer Street building is cladded in the same materials involved in the Grenfell Tower fire, which killed 72 people in London in 2017.

“It is my understanding that the building is cladded with aluminium composite materials, the sort of cladding that was on the Grenfell Tower,” he said…

MFB chief Dan Stephens said the fire started on the 22nd floor and quickly spread seven floors to the 29th.

Last month, firefighters identified 10,000 buildings along Australia’s east coast with suspected flammable cladding:

Firefighters have drawn up a hit list of up to 10,000 buildings across the eastern states with suspected highly flammable cladding…

Combustible aluminium polyethelene, which fuelled the rapid spread of flames at Grenfell, as well as a similar firestorm at Melbourne’s Docklands in 2014, where the blaze spread 13 floors in 10 minutes, has been found wrapping structures across the nation…

We already know from CoreLogic that many recent apartment buyers are drowning in a sea of negative equity:

The situation is likely to get much worse as wary buyers avoid the segment for fears about quality and safety, causing settlements to fail and delinquencies and developer insolvencies to lift.

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Comments

  1. On the same day as the Royal Commission findings. This housing bust really is getting entertaining. Schaudenfraude to the moon!

      • reusachtigeMEMBER

        That was sick anti-apartment living propaganda. Apparently ACA has so called “explosive new footage” on tonight about that tower. It will just be more hatred propaganda against apartment living by the nimby movement.

    • Good thing the NSW and VIC governments have kept the list of flammable buildings a secret to “protect property values”. We now know where human lives fit on their list of priorities.

      • I’m an MFB insider. The list is on our intranet. Surely a member of the public could make an FOI application.

      • On a positive note, can’t imagine a more efficient way to spread the stink over the entire segment.

      • Aaron
        I wouldn’t be surprised if someone in your position found a non-traceable way to copy that info, then placed it in an envelope and wrote “Adele Ferguson” on the front and hand-delivered it to the front desk at the Age building, 665 Collins St (about 100 metres from where the fire happened this morning).
        And, just in case the Age stops Adele from publishing it, it could also be delivered to other journalists who seem to have integrity e.g. Michael Janda at the ABC

      • Why doesn’t someone just publish a short list purporting to be an extract from the firebrigade’s list. Get it to go viral.

        Then they will have to publish the true list to counteract the made-up list. Heheh

    • Now that Justice Hayne as the banking RC in the bag, he should start on the construction RC. Lets see William and Bowen pressure the gov’t into that one.

      • Not likely, My pet theory for today is he was an angry mofo because he knows he just wasted a heap of time on an RC report that is going to be completely ignored. Pretty sure he won’t put himself through that again.

  2. Perfect timing! Pull all the dodgey building down by Government decree – creates work and does wonders for the GDP figures; slug the (future) taxpayer for the bill in the name of safety, and there’s a 100,000 odd households or more looking for alternative accommodation – supports the property market.
    What could be better!

    • The Traveling Wilbur

      A) Bunnings staff will be rushed off their feet! (LOL).
      B) In relation to “perfect timing” – is there any chance you reckon the fire was started by a banker to distract the media from the RC report dump this arvo?

      • I’m glad I’m not the only 1 that thinks the fire is deliberate. It can’t just be a case of serendipity for housing crash bears can it?

      • Buzzy – I thought I read that the owners of units clad in this stuff are having trouble getting insurance policies to cover them for fire? You’d think that the insurance companies would have got hold of that MFB list and are jacking up the premiums for affected properties if not downright refusing to insure.

      • “Expect a lot more fires as apartment prices crash.”

        In New York; this is known as Jewish Lightning.

    • If the taxpayer is asked to pay a single dollar to rectify this mess I will personally burn parliament to the ground (while in session).

      • The taxpayer is almost guaranteed to be paying for it at this point. Thank the state governments that made the builders completely unable to be held responsible financially.

  3. The Traveling Wilbur

    Whocoodanode?

    I just wish there’d been some kind of warning from Government, or media coverage about this so that authorities, regulators and building owners could have taken appropriate action to prevent such occurrences.

    • All you have to do is go back to truly independent building inspection, rather than self-certifying BS and most of the problems go away. A building or 2 declared unfit for habitation and forced to be pulled down or repaired would quickly see compliance for all future builds. All it takes is the political will to actually do it, so don’t hold your breath.

      • That would be the government. In the interests of “efficiency”. At the request of the building industry.

        edit: by independent I meant government inspectors, not “independent” private contractors that are financially dependent on business from builders for livelihood.

    • rob barrattMEMBER

      Jail? Oh – You mean the place where they don’t send bankers!

      Jail? Well, the C in CFMEU (proud owners of the ALP) stands for Construction, thus of course the self-certifying inspectorate. As for the other lot (the LNP) I assume High-rise Harry (who of course knew absolutely nothing) & co are lining the usual pockets. Plus que ca change…. When the (vastly inflated for profit) bill arrives on a silver plate the usual mugs will of course be paying…

  4. So lucky that this wasn’t worse. This could have easily been a horrible disaster. Thanks to the amazing work by the firefighters. This is strike 2 by the way…

  5. wasabinatorMEMBER

    Can’t wait to find out which legal loophole ends up making the repair bill a taxpayer liability

  6. 371 units yet only 150 people evacuated, didn’t Opal have a similar ratio. How many apartments are empty? You would think a fully occupied building with a 5% vacancy would be close to 740 people.

    • Anyone evacuated with an Anglo name or appearance?

      If so (less than 0%), how does the ratio of anglos in the building compare to the wider population of Victoria?

    • Students don’t count as people.

      On the flipside, if this was sydney we could expect those two bedders to be housing at least 20 students. So numbers are low lol.

      • that will not work with Opal. Remember reason why it started to crack.. being overloaded. And that overloaded was caused by about 20% of residents being inside the tower. lol

    • Labrynth, yes the figure quoted for Opal was that 140 people were evacuated from something like 390 apartments. But seeing that was in the middle of the day you could argue that most were away at work (never explained whether there were 140 people actually in the Opal building at the time of evacuated or whether there were 140 residents in the building).

      However given that today’s fire started at 5 in the morning you would expect that pretty much all residents would have been in the building when the fire broke out. Does strongly suggest that a large proporation of the units have owners in China.

      • The other possibility was that most of the residents were illegals who scampered as soon as they saw the authorities turn up.

    • According to firefighters some of the apartments were “highly populated”, many had alarms covered up and many residents refused to leave:

      https://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/nation/apartment-covered-in-combustible-cladding-ablaze-in-melbourne/news-story/17d29970de2f0bcc240ca4a78a2b24c2

      “Many of the apartments in Melbourne’s Spencer St building that was on fire today had their smoke alarms covered up, rooms were over-occupied and firefighters also encountered residents who refused to leave, according to the Metropolitan Fire Brigade.”

    • The building is a popular AirBnB building given its proximity to SkyBus and Southern Cross station. That may explain some vacancy level (would expect Friday and Saturday nights to be busier).

  7. MFB investigators have also found some of the residents had put plastic over their smoke alarms.

    It’s been observed at this point that a number of occupants that have covered their smoke alarms with plastic in order to stop their fire alarms from activating.

    WTF???? Why would they do this?

    • lots of wok or grill cooking in a poorly ventilated space would cause the smoke alarms to trigger all the time.

      That and smoking inside.

    • Some alarms are very sensitive – mine has gone off many times due to shower steam. Then again, they might just like to cook their meth or curry in peace.

    • Cheers – that all makes sense. I must not do enough cooking at home …

      I do wonder what the fire insurer of the building is going to say when the claim goes in. Between the cladding and this behaviour.

      Even if the claim is paid out, they will never get cover again.

      If I were a lender I would want to exit my exposure to that building as quickly as possible.

    • Because the builder used the cheapest smoke alarm they could get rather than one appropriate for use near a kitchen further exacerbating the problems mentioned above.

    • Normally the smoke alarms in a unit don’t trigger the whole building immediately?
      Otherwise you would have a heap of false alarms (no matter what type of building). Surely there has to be some sort of confirmation i.e. via heat/UV sensor or multiple sensors.

    • TailorTrashMEMBER

      Stir frying on your bed tends to set off the alarms ….bit of a damned nuisance that …….isn’t it great to see the consequences of our booming export education
      business

    • Because there’ll be lots of studio apartments with no separation of kitchen/living/bedroom spaces and the smoke detector will be over the bed or thereabouts. Tiny space + smoky cooking = alarm triggered. Hence covering it up as it goes off every night

      Just a matter of time before we incinerate several hundred migrants and the whole world finds out our apartment towers are candles

  8. Before anyone now buys a high rise, a document certifying the cladding as non-flammable will be required. If the punter doesn’t know to insist, the lending bank certainly will. The entire high rise sector is now jammed and untransactable.

    What scale are we talking about here – 100,000 dwellings?

    Don’t Buy ^dogboxes^ Now!

    • Yes. What rational actor would buy a highrise apartment at the moment without a rock solid guarantee that the building is free of inflammable cladding?

      I’m surprised that sales haven’t gone to zero. It’ll be interesting to see what happens to the market after this incident where the flames quickly spread through seven floors.

      It would be so easy to end up burning to death in one of those places. What an utterly horrifying thought. And people are blocking their fire alarms FFS.

    • I would think the building compliance process already requires documentation stating the cladding meets Australian standards, so no doubt the documentation has already been falsified.

  9. Disgraceful…Oppurtunity went begging…should go full mode privatization on this .Where is the modern day Crassus? Privatize the fire brigades… negotiate a sale from the distressed owners as the building burns, when said building has been sold at a steep discount put the fire out. Fix up the gutted apartments if you could be bothered or lease at cheaper rates to the plebs. The remaining apartments untouched by fire can still be rented at market rates…

    • Bonus points for reviving the memory of Crassus. Dealt with Spartacus but STILL everyone loved that damned Pompey, what?!

  10. We all predicted this would happen on MB over the years. We also all predicted the many consequences of mass immigration and unfettered foreign investment. Why did the pollies and other policy makers not bother reading this website?

    • Because they cared more about the increased GDP and increased corporate $$$$$.
      The consequences are a minor side effect that they don’t have to deal with.
      What gives you the idea that policy makers and pollies are acting in your best interests?