Building site blaze raises heat on timber frame

Aaron Morby 13 years ago

MORE than 100 firefighters and 16 fire engines battled a blaze which destroyed a Hampshire construction site.

There were fears the four-storey timber-framed block of flats could collapse and that the flames would spread to nearby properties.

This latest building site fire comes just weeks after a similar blaze ripped through a Glasgow house building site.

This coincided with and the publication of the first official Government statistics to express concerns about the spread of fire in completed and timber framed buildings under construction.

Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service Chief Officer John Bonney, who is also president of the chief fire officers association, warned about the danger of timber-framed buildings.

He said: “When timber-framed buildings catch fire the actual structure burns. It often leads to total collapse and that puts the safety of our firefighters at risk.

“The potential for fire spread was clearly of major concern at this incident, and shows that the chief fire officers association is right to be increasingly concerned about the number and severity of fires in timber-framed buildings under construction.”

The latest fire statistics compiled for the department of Communities and Local Government concludes fires in timber-framed dwellings are more likely to spread in built homes or those under construction.

The August report analysed all fires from April 2009 to March 2010 where damage had spread beyond 20 sq m, effectively the room where it originated.

The report concluded: “Fires in timber-framed dwellings do tend to have a greater area of fire and heat damage than fires in dwellings of no special construction.”

In housing under construction, the figures are far more damning.

Around 28% of timber-framed buildings under construction damaged by fire suffered more than 100 sq m of destruction compared to just 4% using traditional building techniques.

For completed homes, 47% of completed timber-frame dwellings that caught fire suffered damage to an area greater than 50m2 compared to 32% of those built using other forms of construction.

In addition to the Chief Fire Officers Association, the London Fire Authority and the Fire Protection Association have criticised the use of timber-frame construction.

Following the investigation into last year’s major fire in Peckham that destroyed a half-completed 5 storey timber-frame building and badly damaged adjacent blocks of flats, Brian Coleman, chairman of the London Fire Authority, questioned the use of timber-frame for multi-storey buildings.

He said: “I have always been a stern critic of high rise timber-frame buildings having seen in my own area the results of a blaze.”

“I personally wouldn’t allow any high rise timber buildings – there needs to be a review of regulations.”

Jim Glockling, technical director of the FPA has called for a full inquiry into the use of timber-frame construction with a focus on the fire spread inside cavities.

This is a call that is increasingly being backed by the insurance companies who are concerned about the high value of claims arising from timber frame fires.

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