Once blazes in heritage buildings take hold, it seems that there’s little that can be done. The Royal Clarence Hotel in Exeter on October the 28th this year was the most recent example of this.
In the last 30 years, there have been many incidents in heritage buildings. These include Hampton Court Palace (1986), Uppark House (1989), Windsor Castle (1992) and the city centre of Hereford (2010). In the past two years alone, fire has taken Clandon House, Wythenshawe Hall and Cosgrove Hall.
Fires in heritage buildings often become severe for several reasons. They include a delay in discovery, distance from the fire station, and poor access to the perimeter by pumps and aerials. A lack of suitable fire compartmentation is also a major factor, as is high fire-loading of structural/decorative timber and contents. Once started, these fires seem impossible to stop until all the fuel has been consumed.
Sprinklers are not a solution
Looking at solutions, sprinklers are unlikely to play a major role in all but the most important properties. Furthermore, a fire safety strategy that relies on the Service meanwhile is becoming problematic. Service activity levels are declining and the ‘just in case’ principal of fire cover provision is becoming a thing of the past.
As seen at Clandon House, a small fire in a heritage building, if not dealt with in a few minutes, inevitably leads to massive destruction. Preparing for an incident in a building of the size of, say, Blenheim Palace, is – under current reductions in service provision – difficult to say the least.
Photo by Alison Day, licensed under Creative Commons 2.0