Saturday, 4 July 2009

Camberwell fire - press speculation

Evidence on how the fire started and why it spread will take many weeks to assemble, and the MSM can perhaps be forgiven for their confusion. The BBC is reporting that the fire started on the ninth floor and spread to the eleventh; the guardian that it started on the fourth. The image below suggests it started on the fifth floor and spread vertically through the structure to the eleventh, where the fatalities are reported to have occurred.

So why is this important? Well, for those of us involved in construction, understanding part B of the building regs is fundamental to managing the design of large or complex buildings. The principle is that buildings are constructed in fire resistant compartments, with both horizontal and vertical compartmentation; that individual dwellings also each have a protected lobby to prevent fires spreading to common corridors, and corridors and stairs should be specially protected and in particular that linings should be fire resistant.

I have two major concerns about the Camberwell building. Firstly, the fire appears to have spread vertically through the structure, from flat to flat. Secondly, the fire appears to have spread along an internal protected corridor on the eleventh floor (if the layout was as in the sketch plan below). Older buildings can have fire-stopping and cavity barriers inserted, as well as additional protection such as alarms and sprinkler systems. Those resonsible for reported recent building works will have valuable evidence to give.



10 comments:

Blue Eyes said...

I live in a very similar block. One thing which has always worried me is what would happen to other flats if I accidentally started a fire or if someone near me started a fire. You have reassured me a bit...

Guthrum said...

Also in Construction.

The first thing I noticed was that the fire broke through vertically with remarkable ease.

The shots I saw showed plumes of black smoke from made made foam. Questions the efficacy of smoke alarms

Yokel said...

Does anyone know where the rubbish chutes are in this building?

Anonymous said...

What surprises me is that the front of the building appears to be made of wood (I live nearby) or very thin plaster partitions. It seems obvious that the fire would spread along the frontage. You'll notice from the pictures that the flats no longer have a front. It's just a hole. Why wasn't that made of brick or non-flammable material?

jimjim237 said...

I live quite near there in a council block, although a much smaller one of a completely different design. There is though one possible similarity. On one face of my flat the outside "walls" appear to be glazed plastic frames (I guess with some metal in them) floor to ceiling. On the living room (with balcony) the glass clearly extends floor to ceiling but the lower half is covered with a layer of opaque plastic. On the non-balconied rooms the inside of the lower half has been re-inforced with what could be a single course of brick. (I have *no idea* what is inside the box that I see inside.)

My concern is that apparent lack of fire resistance of the plastic frames glass walls as can be seen in the photos of the aftermath.

Strangely there are no photos of the other side of the block?

Blue Eyes said...

Yokel - in my block and I assume many others the rubbish chutes were closed up a long time ago.

Yokel said...

@ Blue Eyes: Were they just sealed, or removed? Just looking for ways between the floors.

Blue Eyes said...

Ahh I see what you are getting at. The holes on each floor to shove your rubbish through have been closed up but the actual chutes probably remain.

Anonymous said...

I live in a nearby block and the rubbish chutes are still in use. Our communal bin caught fire in Dec 2005 and flames were going up the chute, but luckily it didn't have any rubbish wedged in it higher up (as sometimes happens). The fire brigade were called out on that occasion but we'd put it out ourselves by the time they arrived). There wouldn't have been any smoke detectors in the communal stairwell where the rubbish chute is - a passing neighbour knocked on my window and told me it was on fire.

Blue Eyes said...

PS what do we know about the council's administrative role in this disaster? I think I read somewhere that Southwark's housing department is a mess. Could lack of maintenance or poor investment decisions have affected this?