Residents have been blocked from returning to their homes, after a fire raced through an inner-city Melbourne apartment tower on Monday.
The fire started at around 5.30am on Monday morning on a balcony on the 22nd floor, and quickly spread to the 27th floor.
Emergency crews reached the site within four minutes, and quickly upgraded their response when it was noted the building was clad in a flammable material.
Fifteen fire trucks attended the fire, with 80 firefighters battling the flames at the height of the blaze.
It took just over an hour for fire fighters to bring the blaze under control.
A member of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade said he believed the building was clad with aluminium composite materials, the same type of cladding used on London’s Grenfell Tower, where 72 people died during a fire in 2017.
Discarded cigarette most likely cause
The Metropolitan Fire Brigade said it was most likely that a discarded cigarette on the balcony ignited flammable items nearby, causing the fire.
Building issued with ‘show-cause notices’
According to a report by the ABC, the City of Melbourne issued two show-case notices last year to the property’s owners over concerns the cladding was flammable.
Owners were asked to show why the cladding had not been removed.
Fire safety measures, such as the addition of more smoke alarms, were taken, but the cladding remained in place.
Residents prevented from returning home
On Tuesday, Melbourne City Council issued an ‘emergency order’ that the building is still not safe to occupy.
MCC said the 40-storey NEO tower, on Spencer Street in the heart of Melbourne, contains safety features, such as smoke detection systems and smoke alarms, that may have been affected by the fire.
However, some residents have been allowed to enter the building to collect pets and “vital possessions”.
Overcrowding is also being investigated in the building, after the Municipal Building Surveyor noted that “some apartments had more beds than would otherwise be appropriate”.
Apartments between floors 22 and 27 have been “significantly affected” by fire and water damage, according to the City of Melbourne.
A relief centre has been opened at Melbourne Town Hall to provide support to those affected by the fire.
Building considered ‘moderate’ risk
The Neo building was one of more than 2,000 audited by the Victorian Building Authority, and was declared a “moderate risk”.
Two notices were issued to the building’s owners, asking that smoke alarms be installed in bedrooms adjacent to exterior walls covered with flammable cladding.
Owners may have to foot the bill to replace cladding
The apartment building was completed in 2007, meaning owners may not be able to bring a claim against the builder to have the flammable cladding replaced.
They may be left footing the bill themselves.