German city evacuates apartment block to replace fire-risk cladding

BERLIN, 28 June 2017: 

The German city of Wuppertal, citing raised concerns after a deadly fire in London, yesterday began evacuating about 72 people from an 11-storey residential building – after it was found to contain flammable materials, city officials said.

Fire inspectors have reviewed Wuppertal’s roughly 70 high-rise buildings, said spokeswoman Martina Eckermann – since the London fire, which killed at least 79 people.

She said officials had been concerned about this particular building since 2010, but decided to act now after seeing how fire could spread rapidly via a flammable cladding or facade.

“We know it’s a burden for residents to be moved without any notice, but we felt we had to act immediately since there are clear dangers to life and limb.”

Eckermann said those residents who could not move in with neighbours or friends would be given other lodgings until the owners of the building replaced the facade – a process that could be completed in a few weeks.

Eckermann said it was unclear if the flammable material was similar to that used in the London building. She said the Wuppertal building’s fire escape routes also relied on external balconies that could not be used if the facade material caught fire, and it was too tall to use ladders for evacuations.

British prime minister Theresa May has called for a national investigation into the cladding, used on facades buildings mainly for insulation or to improve their appearance, after all those checked since the fire failed safety tests.

At least 79 people died when a fire that started in a fridge freezer engulfed the 24-storey Grenfell Tower block on June 14, trapping many inside their apartments as they slept.

Police yesterday named a five-year-old boy as the youngest of the dead so far formally identified.

The devastating inferno has raised concerns about the cladding used on the facades of buildings, mainly for insulation or to improve their appearance, prompting urgent safety tests to be carried out on similar tower blocks around the country.

“Right now, we are at a position where 95 buildings in 32 local authority areas have now failed the tests and that remains a 100% failure rate,” said May’s spokesman.

“The prime minister said there would need to be a major national investigation into what had gone wrong when cladding which is failing the tests had been fitted on buildings across the country over a number of decades.”

– Reuters

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