Monthly Archives: June 2017

London Fire Statement from the CFPA-I

Upper_Grenfell_Tower

The Confederation of Fire Associations-International (CFPA-I) extends its deepest sympathies to the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire and expresses high praise for the work of the emergency services who have been working extremely hard and tirelessly to manage this terrible situation.

This was a devastating fire. As details emerge, we understand there was a refurbishment including exterior cladding and a communal heating system. We are hopeful that the pending investigation will reveal all of the factors that led to this tragic and avoidable loss of life.

The quick fire spread seen in the Grenfell Tower fire is eerily similar to that seen in other similar high-rise fires that have occurred throughout the world, including Australia and the United Arab Emirates. Although the details of the construction of the building are not yet known, reports have indicated that a composite metal cladding with foam insulation was used in the recent refurbishment. At this time, it is not known whether the external cladding had been tested and approved in accordance with the most current fire safety standards.

CFPA-I remains deeply concerned that there are many high-rise buildings around the world that have flammable materials installed with the potential for external fire spread.

It is the view of CFPA-I that building regulations and associated guidance in many locations have not always included safeguards to prevent the use of materials and methods that have poor fire performance capabilities. Even in the absence of strong governmental oversight, architects, engineers, contractors and building owners must embrace fire protection as a fundamental and essential consideration. This includes the proper balance of active and passive fire protection measures, and the on-going inspection, testing and maintenance of all fire and life safety systems.

Many insulating materials are available for use in building construction and their fire performance characteristics can range from being non-combustible to very flammable – it is a matter of choice, and clearly some choices are safer than others.

While we must wait for a full investigation into the cause of the fire and the reasons for such rapid fire spread in this tragic incident, CFPA-I and its member organisations will continue to campaign for improvements in fire safety legislation and in ensuring the safety of the public and our built environment.

This includes:

  • Appropriate alarms, training and evacuation procedures
  • Smoke detection and alarm systems in all residential buildings
  • Controls on the use of flammable façades
  • Proper design, installation and maintenance of fire doors
  • Proper design, installation and maintenance of fire and smoke barriers and the protection of structural components
  • Fire sprinkler protection for all residential and high risk buildings
  • Regular updates of building regulations
  • Initiatives to ensure full compliance with fire and life safety regulations
  • Robust programs for the inspection, testing and maintenance of fire protection systems.

For further information, contact:
Steven Ooi, Chairman:  stevenooi@jayasarana.com
Hatem Kheir, Vice-Chairman: kheir@link.net

A rare self-ignited fire

Røjdrupvej 6 Hobro hus brændt ned foto: Hans RavnIn December 2016, a pyrophoric fire broke out in a house in the Danish town of Hobro – something you only see every few years. According to a researcher in timber, we know very little about pyrophoric fires, because it is an extremely difficult subject to research.    

It was a tragic and extremely rare event that befell the Olesen family in December 2016. Their house was burned to the ground as a result of a self-igniting fire, or pyrophoric fire, to use its scientific name.

– In the burnt-out house in Hobro, we investigated all other possible causes of the fire, but in the end we had to conclude that it was a pyrophoric fire, explains DBI fire investigator Søren B. Mortensen, who investigated the cause of the fire in question.

Normally, pyrophoric fires are something you only see every few years in Denmark.

Long-time effects
Researcher in Timber, Emil Engelund Thybring from the University of Copenhagen explains that pyrophoric fires start when timber is converted into coal after having been exposed to a heat source, for example, a wood-burning stove or hot-water pipes, over an extended period of time.

– Through the effect of heat over many years, the timber dries out and the polymers break down causing chemical changes in the timber which is then converted into a kind of coal. In the presence of oxygen, the chemical reactions generate heat, which can raise the temperature. This can result in a self-perpetuating rise in temperature, causing the timber to smoulder, says Emil Engelund Thybring.

He explains that the lowest documented temperature that is able to cause this chemical change is 77 degrees. By way of comparison, the temperature of hot water in a water pipe is typically around 80 degrees.

Rarely happens
However, according to Emil Engelund Thybring, there has not been much research carried out into pyrophoric fires. The term has been in existence for more than 100 years but, back in the 1990s, many people still believed that pyrophoric fires were a myth.

– It is a difficult subject to research because it can take many years for the timber to be affected so much that there is a risk of it catching fire. It has been documented that the chemical changes in the timber can occur as a result of the timber being affected by heat for anything between three months and 15 years, and there has never been any thorough research over such a long period of time. Furthermore, pyrophoric fires require the ideal combination of oxygen and low humidity, says Emil Engelund Thybring.

A pyrophoric fire, whereby timber self-ignites, occurs very seldom. Over the last 20 years, fire investigator Søren B. Mortensen has investigated between 2,000 and 3,000 fires, and only a few times has he concluded that the cause of the fire was a pyrophoric fire. Prior to the fire in Hobro in December, the last time DBI had come across a case in which timber had self-ignited in this way was five years ago.