cigarette blamed for vic apartment fire

Cigarette blamed for Vic apartment fire


A Melbourne high-rise fire has reignited concerns about combustible building cladding, like that fitted to London’s Grenfell Tower.

Residents of the 40-storey building at 200 Spencer Street were woken by an early morning fire alarm on Monday and emergency crews rushed to the site, knowing of the added potential danger.

It’s believed the blaze started on a 22nd-floor balcony and quickly spread five storeys upward.

The MFB on Monday night confirmed a lit cigarette was the most probable cause of the blaze, which they say ignited combustible materials stored on the balcony.

The apartment building is one of more than 2000 inspected by the Victorian Building Authority, chief executive Sue Eddy confirmed.

She said the building had been declared a “moderate risk” and two notices were issued, requiring smoke alarms be installed in bedrooms adjacent to walls covered with the cladding.

Former premier Ted Baillieu, who co-chairs the Victorian Cladding Taskforce, said building notices were issued to last July and October, identifying the problem.

“The important task is to find these buildings with cladding, to fix them and to fund them and then to prevent it happening in the future,” Mr Baillieu said.

Some 360 private buildings have been deemed high-risk, he said.

Cities across the world began assessing buildings following London’s Grenfell Tower fire in June 2017 when an inferno engulfed the 24-storey block of flats, killing 72 people.

Victoria’s Planning Minister Richard Wynne said the Melbourne apartment building that caught fire was only partially clad in the flammable material and people were able to evacuate safely.

The City of Melbourne later issued an emergency order for the property after the municipal building surveyor identified “essential safety measures” had been compromised.

“The emergency order requires that the building not be occupied for 48 hours or until these systems can be recommissioned and confirmed as operational,” a council spokesperson said.

Smoke controls, sprinklers and emergency warning systems are among the functions that could have been compromised.

Couple Phil Tse and Eunice Cheung had no idea the high-rise building in which they they own a 28th-floor apartment was covered in risky cladding.

The finance workers, both 32, managed to grab only their phones and dress in matching tracksuits before fleeing on Monday.

“We’ve had to take some time off work … we’re going to a friend’s place in the eastern suburbs,” Mr Tse told AAP.

A relief centre has been set up at Melbourne Town Hall.

Rental tenants are eligible for reimbursement of alternative accommodation costs, but there are not provisions for owner-occupiers, Mr Tse said.

States and territories will be required to provide a progress update on implementing building regulations in regard to cladding at next week’s meeting of building ministers.