History is abound with several examples of devastating fire incidents that have resulted in severe losses to life and property, and there has been a consistent flow of innovations in regard to fire prevention measures as complications due to fire incidents become more and more severe in view of technological developments in building structures. With the coming up of skyscrapers and the development of several high rise buildings after the long reign of the Empire Stare Building in New York as being the tallest building in the world was over, the risk of fire has increased a great deal although new techniques for fire fighting have also been developed.
Although the number of lives lost due to large fires in buildings has declined due to improvements in fire fighting techniques, but the potential for immense loss to life and property in individual fire incidents has been growing steadily in view of larger number of people in buildings due to their increased size and height. Fire represents the greatest single danger to life and property in such high-rise buildings.
We will examine in this paper the case of four dominating buildings in different parts of the world that were engulfed by severe fire and which proved to be a big challenge for fighting personnel to handle. Fire at The Windsor Tower Hotel, Madrid, 12th February 2005 The Windsor Tower Hotel, located in Madrid was a tower with 32 levels and the fire started on the 12th February 2005 at the 21st floor eventually spreading to all floors above the 2nd floor. It was destroyed totally by the fire and there was extensive collapsing of the slabs above the 17th floor.
The construction type was concrete reinforced with slabs with the support of internal columns of RC and steel beams. However, the perimeter steel beams above the 17th floor were found to be unprotected. The building was not equipped with sprinklers and there was no passive fire protection (The Windsor Tower Fire). The building did not have sprinklers nor fire protection to steel work since the original structure of the building had complied with Spanish building codes of the 1970s, which did not require such installations.
Consequently the gap between the original claddings and slabs of the floor were not fire protected. The fire, which was caused by a short circuit on the 21st floor, had spread to all upper floors within an hour and then spread to the lower building up to the 2nd floor. The fire raged for twenty hours and the entire building was gutted in the fire and a large part of the floor slabs above the 17th floor had given way. The estimated loss due to the fire was Euro 72 million, in addition to the cost of refurbishing and renovating of the entire building.
An analysis of the fire incident has revealed several shortcomings in adherence to worldwide building and fire protection regulations, the prominent amongst them being the absence of effective fire fighting measures such as automatic sprinkling systems. A major factor that contributed to the rapid spread of the fire was the designing of the floors of the building in an open style with floor areas of up to 1000 square meters, and which in fact gave further wind to the fire thus causing extensive damage.
In the floor openings and façade system there was total failure of the vertical compartment measures, and the simultaneous buckling of the steel columns in perimeters that were unprotected led to the total collapsing of the floor slabs higher than the 17th floor (Jim Arnold, 2005).