Authorities blame flammable coating after intense fire at skyscraper in Milan


While the exact cause of the August 29 fire that ravaged Torre dei Moro, a 20-story apartment tower in the semi-rural southern suburb of Milan, has not yet been determined, authorities have already identified one culprit as to why hell has spread so quickly: combustible exterior siding.

Residents of the building were quickly rescued and no serious injuries were reported and no lives were lost (with the exception of pets), but the massive fire was disturbingly reminiscent of the fire in the 2017 Grenfell Tower in West London both in its ferocity and the accelerated way the flames spread, as the spaces between the structure and the exterior cladding created a chimney effect that effectively transformed the skyscraper – ten year old sky in a torch 200 feet high. Seventy-two people have died and dozens more have been injured in the Grenfell Tower Hell, which was the UK’s worst residential fire since World War II. The official investigation into the Grenfell tragedy, now in its second phase, is ongoing.

“What already seems clear from the start is that the exterior cladding of the building has ignited far too quickly, in a dynamic reminiscent of the Grenfell Tower in London,” said the mayor of Milan Giuseppe “Beppe” Sala in a press release shared by the Associated Press.

“I have never seen such a situation,” added fire chief Giuliano Santagata. “You just have to look at the facade and you see that everything is completely burnt out, and therefore assume that it was made of a flammable material.”

As Angelo Lucchini, professor of technical architecture at the Polytechnic University of Milan, explained to the PA, Italy drafted new rules for coating buildings following the Grenfell fire. However, these rules have not yet been formally adopted. Italian coating rules do not prohibit a specific coating product, but detail how to “prevent the spread of flames along the facade”, according to the PA.

Augusto Bononi, the administrator of Torre dei Moro, explained to an Italian media TGCOM24 that the facade of the building was clad in Alucobond, a material made from aluminum foil.

Torre dei Moro in 2016 (Neq00 / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0)

The exact cause of the fire has not been identified, although investigators believe it started on the 15th floor of Torro dei Moro. First responders from Vigili del Fuoco, Italy’s national fire and rescue service, were praised for their rapid response and evacuation efforts, which were carried out while the blaze was still contained in an area and had not yet spread up and down to the outer tower. Once the fire moved outside, the entire 20-story structure was completely engulfed in flames within 15 minutes.

Following the investigations, the charred remains of the tower could potentially be demolished.

Anchoring a larger redevelopment area in Milan’s Vigentino district, the ship-like Torre dei Morro complex, which also includes shops and a restaurant, is located on Via Antonini near the Milan campus designed by OMA de la Fondazione Prada. Home to largely affluent residents, the complex is owned by Milan-based property development giant Polo srl.

“Justice is already trying to clarify the dynamics of the incident. I hope that responsibility will be established soon, ”added Sala after the fire. “The Torre dei Moro was built a little over 10 years ago and it is unacceptable that such a modern building has turned out to be totally vulnerable.”

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