Timber frame fire reignites safety fears
The suitability of using timber frame construction for multistorey housing blocks was called into question again this week after a blaze at a housing association building site in Stockport.
A Guinness Northern Counties £2.4 million five-storey partially constructed timber frame block of flats went up in flames in the early hours of Monday morning, reports Inside Housing.
Sixty firefighters battled with the blaze for three hours as it threatened two nearby occupied blocks and barred the entrance to one, leaving its six residents in temporary accommodation until the building can be made safe reported the magazine.
The safety of timber frame was raised after significant fire on a Peckham site in November 2009. A London and Quadrant Housing Group partially constructed block of flats went up in flames and spread to two nearby occupied blocks.
It prompted the Chief Fire Officers Association to meet with the government and manufacturers of timber frame homes to talk about measure to improve building site safety.
This lead to industry body the UK Timber Frame Association producing a construction site audit scheme, Site Safe, to improve fire safety on timber frame building sites. UK Timber Frame Association members had to produce documentary evidence showing they had explained fire risks to contractors and developers. A number of other fires occurred around the same time.
While some commentators have called into question the use of such a combustible material, others have pointed to lack of security as the root cause – with a number of these fires started by arson.
Richard Baines, director of sustainable development at Black Country Housing, told Inside Housing: ‘If we had not had the economic collapse people would not be cutting costs in security and we would not be seeing all these fires,’ he said.
Arnold Tarling, a surveyor with 20 years’ experience inspecting public sector housing, said of timber-framed construction. ‘It’s not as safe as non-combustible materials – it can’t be.’
There were then fires at a five-storey timber frame building under construction in Peckham at the start of 2010 and a private half-constructed timber-framed block in the Yoker area of Glasgow in August that year.
UK Timber Frame Association guidelines state under-construction timber frame buildings over three storeys should have an out-of-hours watchman. Guinness Northern Counties said there was no 24-hour patrol but that the site was ‘secured with high level hoardings and it was well-lit and covered by the town’s CCTV system’.
A Guinness Northern Counties spokesperson said: ‘All appropriate risk assessments were completed as part of the design and the contract was working to the UK Timber Frame Association’s guidelines and recommendations.’
Dr Paul Newman, director of the UKTFA, said: ‘The fire incident in Stockport that destroyed a timber and masonry apartment block is a serious reminder of the critical importance of having robust security and safety procedures in place on all construction sites and adopting a timber solution appropriate to the site.’