PUTRAJAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The cladding panels used on the exterior of Malaysia's pension fund building in Selangor that caught fire on Tuesday (Feb 13) were made of "polystyrene foam" and highly flammable, a minister said.
The fire started on the first floor of the six-storey Employees Provident Fund (EPF) building in Jalan Gasing, Petaling Jaya, as maintenance work was being carried out on the building's exterior.
Local Government, Housing and Urban Well-being Minister Noh Omar said on Wednesday the use of the material allowed Tuesday's (Feb 13) fire to spread easily and engulf the building's exterior in a matter of minutes.
"From the outside, the cladding looked rock solid, but in actual fact it is made of polystyrene. That is why the fire was able to spread so quickly," said Noh at a press conference on Wednesday.
"Thankfully, firemen arrived in five minutes so they were able to put out the fire," he added.
The incident was the first fire involving flammable cladding panels in Malaysia, Deputy director-general Soiman Jahid of the Fire and Rescue Services Department said on Tuesday. He added that it was similar to the Grenfell Tower fire in London last year, which also blamed on flammable cladding.
Tan Sri Noh urged building owners that use similar cladding to remove it from the structures immediately to prevent similar incidents.
"A previous fire at the Kuala Lumpur Library was also caused by the same thing. I urge all building owners with similar cladding to remove it immediately," he said. "If you are unsure whether your material is easily flammable or not, contact the Fire and Rescue Department so they can inspect and advise accordingly."
He added that the Department did not find any elements of foul play.
"The fire actually only affected 5 per cent of the entire building. Based on the investigation, the fire was caused during waterproofing works being done by a contractor," he said.
"In order to melt the waterproofing membrane, you need to use a flame gun. The cladding accidentally caught fire, and it spread really fast. The contractor doing the waterproofing was not aware that the cladding material was easily flammable," said Noh.
All 527 workers in the building were evacuated safely.