24 April 2019 | Prithvi Pandya
The recent conflagration at Notre-Dame in Paris shows how vulnerable historic buildings undergoing repairs are to fire damage, according to research by vacant property management company VPS Group.
The National Database of Fires in Heritage Buildings records all reported fires, and so far in 2019, 152 fires have been noted. Last year in the UK, 300 historic buildings were damaged by fire.
Archaic buildings are particularly susceptible to the fast spread of fire because of dry old wood, voids and cavities in walls, floors and ceilings, which effectively provide 'runways' for the flames.
Windsor Castle's 1992 fire was sparked by a worker's spotlight accidentally setting a curtain alight in Queen Victoria's Private Chapel. The Glasgow School of Art was also devastated by fire during renovation works in June 2018.
Buildings undergoing refurbishment are particularly vulnerable as they are likely to have exposed wires and timber, and potentially hot works occurring as part of the renovation. All construction sites are high-risk safety areas in any case, as all it takes is a spark from a sander, an abrasive chop-saw, a blow-torch or ash from a cigarette to ignite common and flammable construction materials like wood, solvents, packaging and fuel, says VPS.
It recommends that regular fire-risk assessments should be put in place for 'static' buildings, i.e. those not undergoing any repairs or refurbishment works; these can vary from annual checks to every three to four years.
VPS suggests that to make sure all the fire doors have been checked and opened, inspec¬tors should stick a lit¬tle date sheet on the inside of the door frame, which is invis¬i¬ble when the door is shut. Every time the building supervisor inspects this, the date should be jotted down on the paper to maintain the record so the prop¬er¬ty man¬ag¬er can make sure the assessor/inspector is car¬ry¬ing out the job.
The consultant also suggests that temporary fire detection equipment is installed while work is being carried out on a building.
VPS says it is important for everyone working on site to be fire safety aware, and that there should be a local on-site fire safety lead to carry out regular sweeps to check the site is compliant with the assessment.