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.
'England's Cultural Heritage still at risk 30 years on'
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 and Rescue Services attendance including:
- Listed buildings
- World Heritage Sites
- Conservation Areas and locally listed buildings
The article discusses measures that could be taken to help reduce risks including national fire statistics and better data for Fire and Rescue Services.
On this page:
Reducing arson risks
Arson often causes more damage than accidental fires due to:
- Multiple points of ignition
- Fire growth being assisted by flammable liquids or accelerants
- Fires being lit at vulnerable points in buildings after dark
- Perpetrators deliberately interfering with fire protection measures
Fires caused by arson can have a lasting negative impact on communities. In the case of historic buildings, the effects of arson are often compounded with the loss of cultural, social and artistic heritage.
Mill buildings contribute enormously to the character and identity of Greater Manchester, Lancashire, Yorkshire and East Cheshire but they are particularly vulnerable to fire, especially when vacant. In response to the loss of these mills and other historic buildings in the North West, Historic England collaborated with the Fire and Rescue Services to publish ‘Arson Risk Reduction’. This guidance looks at:
- Drivers for arson
- Protecting property from arson
- Security measures
- Fire protection measures
- What to do in the event of a fire
- Fire damage and the law
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.
Fire safety advice for historic churches
All building managers, including church and places of worship congregations, need to address fire safety. ‘Fire Safety for Traditional Church Buildings’ aims to help identify, reduce and manage fire safety risks in small- and medium-sized buildings.
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-fuel 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 firefighters. Fires tend to spread rapidly, and firefighters have to work at height removing thatch, dowsing the fire, and carrying out salvage operations. In addition, vehicle access may be difficult, water supplies poor, and operations may be hampered by overhead power lines. Chimneys and gable ends may end up at risk of collapse.
- Guide to Fire Fighting in Thatched Buildings (published by the Institution of Fire Engineers In partnership with Historic England.)
- Reducing the Risk of Fires in Thatched Properties with Wood-Burning Stoves
Fire resistance of historic timber panel doors
Fire doors are installed to reduce the spread of fire and smoke from different compartments in buildings. Historic doors are often relied upon to provide a degree of fire and smoke resistance. However, in some cases, fire safety improvements may be necessary.
The ‘Guide to the Fire Resistance of Historic Timber Panel Doors’ provides advice on how to decide whether changes are necessary. The guidance looks at:
- Escape routes and compartmentation
- Factors affecting the performance of fire doors such as construction, distortion and structural stability
- How to determine fire resistance
- Upgrading fire doors including adding self-closing or hold-open devices