14 Aug 2007

The timber frame fires

Building carries a disturbing report of yet another fire in a half-built multi-storey timber frame apartment block. This one took place in Hatfield on Saturday (11/8/07) and Phil Clark has uncovered a short video showing the event. It follows hard on the heels of similar fires in Newcastle (April 07), Willenhall (Mar 07) and Colindale in North London (July 06). YouTube carries video clips of Colindale, Newcastle and now Hatfield.

I don’t know how many timber frame apartment blocks are under construction at any one time in this country, but it’s still a building technique that is in its infancy so I would be surprised if there are more than a few hundred on the go. The superstructure is often only left exposed for a few days — this is one of the rationales behind using timber frame — yet we’ve just had four burn to the ground in a similar manner. And amazingly, no one has yet been hurt, let alone killed.

Yes, it’s deeply worrying. But it’s also beginning to look a little suspicious.


  1. Hi Mark,
    Phil here. I agree it's very worrying. I have some questions - do you or your readers think the steps taken by the timber frame industry in recent months (the trade association has hired a fire expert) could prevent such incidences happening in the future? In what way do you think it's suspicious? Are there dangers after completion as well as during construction?

  2. Phil,

    1st question - I have no idea, but I know that both UKTFA and TRADA keep an eye on this blog so maybe one of them would care to comment.

    2nd question - This is all speculation BUT: I would have thought the chances of an accidental fire occurring on a construction site when there appears to be nobody around are pretty remote. Now you might think that that means it's a bunch of ASBO kids with a box of matches and a bottle of petrol, and it might well be just that, but the fact that there have been four apparently similar fires in such a short space of time begins to look to me like there may be more to this than just random acts of arson, let alone just accidental fires. I don't have any information to suggest that this might be the case but I am sure I am not the only person who will have had these thoughts.

    I am trying to get hold of the London Fire Brigade report on the Colindale fire, but they want to charge me £285 for it, which seems a bit steep. Why should such information be restricted by such exorbitant costs?

    3rd question: It would be foolish to say No. There are fire dangers in all apartment buildings and framed construction must carry additional risks. The main danger appears to be the rapid spread of fire through an apartment complex and there are well worked routines - specifically cavity barriers - which are designed to prevent this happening. Once the building is finished and all the fire dampening measures are in place, the added risk should be pretty small. But it seems these four fires have all occurred on half-built structures without any fire spread precautions in place - i.e. when they are at their most vulnerable.