Illegal cladding aggravated fire at EPF building

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PETALING JAYA — Plastic cladding outside the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) building here caused a fire, triggered by maintenance work, to spread rapidly and engulf the exterior, according to preliminary investigations.

Fire and Rescue Department deputy director-general of operations Datuk Soiman Jahid said the fire, which was put out in under 30 minutes, started on the first floor of the building after sparks from restoration work ignited the polyethylene cladding.

He added the flammable cladding, which covered much of the building’s facade, is believed to be unapproved.

“We have advised against the use of flammable cladding for buildings, as it may be cheap, but poses a great risk to life and property.

“With this incident, it will be the first recorded case of a fire involving flammable building façade in Malaysia,” Soiman said, likening the fire to the Grenfell Tower blaze in London on June 14 last year, which resulted in 71 deaths.

“The use of such flammable material like cladding is against uniform building by-laws. We will be doing enforcement work nationwide, especially on fire certificates of buildings.”

He added buildings with flammable claddings will no longer be certified by the department, nor will they be able to obtain renewals until the claddings are removed or replaced.

Commenting on the blaze, he said the fire spread rapidly from the first floor to the fourth and parts of the sixth, but did not penetrate the building’s interior.

He added that no documents were lost, save for some “unimportant files” on the sixth floor.

He said hot weather and winds helped spread the fire, which damaged approximately 40 per cent of the building.

The department was alerted to the fire at 11.52am, with the first fire engine arriving six minutes later.

Over 70 fire and rescue personnel were involved in dousing the flames.

“There are no casualties or injuries, and all 527 EPF employees were evacuated safely to the adjacent car park-cum-rescue area,” Soiman said.

Meanwhile, Petaling Jaya fire and rescue station chief Mohd Hafiz Mat Dali said the department will have a full report ready within a week to identify the cause of the fire and declare the premises safe for use.

“We will also evaluate the damage,” he told Bernama at the location.

Mohd Hafiz said the forensics team had completed the task of taking samples from the site of the fire.

At about 5pm, Bernama saw EPF employees gathering at the premises to retrieve personal belongings left in the building with the help of the fire and rescue personnel.