NEWS

Buildings on fire

Apr 5, 2016 | News

(Published by Birgitte Messerschmidt)

In previous blog posts I have made the point that combustible construction products, including combustible insulation, can lead to fires in buildings become buildings on fire. Within the last two weeks there has been several fires showing this to be true.

Ajman Towers Blaze, UAE

On the evening of monday March 28, a fire started in one of the towers in the Ajman One development in UAE. The fire spread quickly, causing burning products to fall from the facade and ignite a fire in the neighboring tower. The fire seemed to spread up the entire height of both towers. It is suspected that the fire spread was caused by the same type of Aluminium faced panels with a combustible insulation core as was used on the Address building in Dubai, which burned on New Years eve.

https://youtu.be/1Ir5OXfclMU

This is the third fire of this type in UAE within a little over a year. All fires involved buildings that were built in recent years, and they all seemed to follow the same script: fire starts on the outside and spread rapidly up the building due to combustible facade panels. There has been no casualties in any of these fires, but the cost of the damages have been significant, as they will be after the latest one in Ajman. Dubai introduced a new building code in 2012 requiring buildings taller than 15 m to have fire resistant facade cladding. However, according to The National full fire resistant panels are still being ignored even after the latest fires.

Wiesenhof chicken slaughterhouse fire, Germany

On the same day as the Ajman Towers Blaze, a fire happened in a chicken slaughter house in Germany. Production was closed down for Easter, so there was no people or live animals present in the building at the time of fire. There was no casualties or serious injuries from the fire, but the damages to the building are severe. It is not known yet how the fire started or spread but from the following video it is obvious that the building itself was on fire and contributed significant amount of fuel and smoke. It appears from the video that the building was a steel structure clad with combustible cored metal faced sandwich panels.

Sandwich Panel Manufacturer fire, Italy

Another fire in a sandwich panel building happened in Italy the following day. A fire occurred in the production facilities of a sandwich panel manufacturer in Ancarano. The cause of the fire is unknown, but again the videos from the fire show that the building itself participated in the fire.

It appears that the building, like the one in Germany, was a steel structure clad with combustible cored sandwich panels. Photos  show that after the fire only the steel sheets of the panels are left, while all the combustible insulation in between has been consumed by the fire.
The fire burned 30.000 square meters of the plant and caused concern regarding environmental pollution. According to news reports, a ban has been put in place to not collect vegetables and fruits within 1 kilometer of the fire site. The concern for pollution from toxic smoke lead to the local school being closed the day after the fire.

Roof fire, Denmark

The videos from the previous mentioned fires show significant amounts of smoke. It is often argued that smoke comes mainly from what is burning inside the building rather than the construction products. Although the content of the building can have a huge impact in terms of smoke release, the contribution from combustible insulation can be significant too. A fire in Copenhagen, Denmark, two weeks ago showed how bad the smoke can get when the main contributor to the fire is combustible roof insulation made of Polystyrene. The fire happened on a building under construction and was most likely started when roofers used torches to apply the roof covering. The fire quickly involved the large quantity of polystyrene insulation stored on the roof awaiting installation. Melted polystyrene was burning as it dripped down to the floors below igniting a fire in a first floor apartment. The smoke from the fire was severe and could be seen from afar.

Conclusion

The fires described above all show the consequences of combustible construction products getting involved in a fire. It is acknowledged that none of the fires caused any fatalities or serious injuries and can therefore be considered to be success stories from the perspective of saving human life. However, if the fires are considered in a sustainability context then the fires are major failures:

  • The social impact is clear with residents in UAE loosing their belongings and place to live and workers in Germany and Italy loosing their job.
  • The economic impact is not only due to the huge losses in each fires but especially in the German and Italian fire there are financial consequences for a local community loosing jobs as production facilities are completely destroyed by fire.
  • The environmental impact from the fires are significant. Smoke pollution caused alarm in the last three fires and even caused a warning in Italy on agricultural production within the vicinity of the fire. Additionally the demolition waste when cleaning up after the fires will add to the environmental burden.

These fires are a reminder that the combustibility of construction products including insulation matters. If we want to have sustainable buildings, we have to consider the fire performance of all construction products used, also those behind coverings. After all, a building that burns down is not sustainable.

See Birgitte’s post on Leading thoughts on safe, sustainable and energy efficient buildings!