Fire is probably the most devastating of disasters that can strike a building. As well as the damage caused by heat and smoke, the water used to extinguish the blaze can also cause serious issues.
In the journal, International Fire Professional (Issue 35, Feb 2021) published by The Institution of Fire Engineers, our National Fire Adviser examines the risk of fires to our cultural heritage. Historic England’s research in 2019 indicates that there were over 1,000 incidents requiring Fire & Rescue attendance including:
- Listed buildings: Grade I listed buildings x 15, Grade II* listed buildings x 47, Grade II listed buildings x 343
- World Heritage Sites x 16
- Conservation Areas and locally listed buildings x 554
The article discusses measures that could be taken to help reduce risks including national fire statistics and better data for Fire & Rescue Services.
Fires in thatched roof properties
Since the 1990s, the number of fires in thatch roofed buildings has risen significantly. Evidence suggests there is a connection between this and the increasing popularity of wood burning and multi-fuel stoves. In fact, recent studies have shown that these types of stoves are more likely to cause fires in thatch roofs than any other form of heating, including traditional open fires.
Historic England has produced new guidance on measures to reduce the risk of fires in thatched buildings with wood-burning and multi-fuelled stoves. The guidance is based on research carried out by the Fire Protection Association on behalf of Historic England and NFU Mutual Insurance.
Fires in thatch roofs pose a special challenge to fire fighters. Fires tend to spread rapidly and fire fighters have to work at height removing thatch as well as dowsing the fire and carrying out salvage operations. In addition, vehicle access may be difficult, water supplies poor, and operations maybe hampered by overhead power lines. Chimneys and gable ends may end up at risk of collapse. In partnership with Historic England, the Institution of Fire Engineers has published a Guide to Fire Fighting in Thatched Buildings
Fires caused by hot works
Historic England advises that hot works such as cutting, welding, or soldering should not be carried out in historic buildings unless there is absolutely no alternative. Many serious fires in historic buildings have been caused by contractors using blow lamps or naked flames. Great care also needs to be taken with hearth fires.
Our advice note explains the Permit to Work systems if hot works have to be carried out. The note includes examples of Method Statements and Authority to Carry Out Hot Work permits.