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Fire Protection and Damage

Client: Solicitors for main contractor
Situation: This case concerned fire spread in a supermarket, one of a series of similar fires in the 1990s and early 2000s.  The supermarket was designed in the “Essex Barn” style, characterised by a complex series of adjoining pitched roofs around the perimeter.  The Store was partly destroyed by fire.The fire was caused by welding operations while constructing an extension to the store.  The welding set fire to foam insulation boards within the wall cavity.  The fire travelled to the top of the wall, entered the eaves and then the roof void, and then travelled around the perimeter eaves and roof voids, causing damage totalling £11m.The supermarket served a total claim of approximately £16m against the store´s original architect and contractor, and the contractors for the extension works.
Action: Probyn Miers was appointed to give expert opinion on published guidance regarding compartmentation, cavity barriers and fire-stopping, and whether the design and construction of the store complied with this guidance.Probyn Miers found that the defects that permitted the spread of fire were:
– lack of closure at the top of the external cavity wall;
– insufficient cavity barriers in the roof and eaves voids; and
– inadequate fire-stopping, rendering compartment walls and cavity barriers ineffective.
Result: The action was settled before trial.This fire was well publicised and the construction industry became more aware of the fire risks associated with hot work, as a consequence of this and other similar fires.  Supermarket chains also became more aware of the dangers of fire spread through interconnected roof voids.  There were other similar fires later, with arson a recurrent problem, but the spate of supermarket fires did eventually end and such fires are now a relative rarity.

 

Client: Insurers for a specialist subcontractor
Situation: Several blocks of multi-storey timber framed housing had been constructed in West London. One block was substantially destroyed by fire leading to a wider investigation as to the design of fire resisting elements of the construction and in particular the installation of fire stopping and fire barriers. Probyn Miers was appointed in an expert capacity to investigate the design and construction of the building
Action: We analysed forensic records made after the fire, as well as the design drawings and contemporary evidence from witnesses. We provided early advice to insurers and ultimately draft reports and a report for mediation.
Result: The case was settled at mediation.

 

Client: Solicitors for the insurers of the building contractor against a claim for damage by the leaseholders of a neighbouring building.
Situation: The case concerns a very severe fire at a building under construction.  The radiant heat was sufficient to set fire to two adjacent buildings, including the one which was the subject of the claim.  The six-and seven-storey blocks were being built in timber frame construction.  Fire spread so rapidly that collapse of the partially-complete building occurred within 10 minutes of the alarm being raised.  This was one of a series of fires in timber frame buildings under construction, which heightened public awareness of the vulnerability of these buildings before the structure is lined with fire-resisting plasterboard.  This fire provided much of the basis for new guidance concerning separating distances between timber frame buildings under construction. 
Action:

Probyn Miers was appointed to provide expert opinion on the adequacy of the methods of construction, the identification of fire risk, and the measures taken to mitigate the risks.  Building Regulations are only applicable to completed building, but it was alleged that compartmentation should have been provided as the construction progressed. 

Different legislation applied to buildings under construction:  The Construction (Design And Management) Regulations;  The Construction (Health, Safety And Welfare) Regulations;  HSE Construction Information Sheet No 51 Construction fire safety and HSG 168 Fire safety in construction work;  Building Research Establishment BR 187 Report External fire spread: Building separation and boundary distances;  and Fire Prevention on Construction Sites  The Joint Code of Practice.  Published advice regarding timber frame construction by BRE, TRADA (Timber Research and Development Association) and UKTFA (UK Timber Frame Association) was also considered.

Result: The case was settled after mediation.

 

Client:

Solicitors for the building insurers, who wished to take action against the Design and Build Contractor, the Employer’s Agent and the Architect, consultants under collateral warranty to the owner.

Situation:

The case concerns a fire in the mixed development, a conversion from a Victorian industrial building, containing four floors of flats over the ground floor retail level.  A deliberately-ignited fire damaged one flat only and was apparently extinguished by the Fire Brigade.  The occupants of the other flats were allowed to stay overnight.  In the early hours in the morning a fire, which had smouldered unseen all night behind the wall lining, broke out in the roof space, destroying the roof and all the top floor flats in the development.  Reinstatement costs and fees amounted to £7 million.

Action: Probyn Miers was appointed to review all the evidence including earlier reports by others, to analyse the design and fire strategy, to consider compartmentation, fire stopping, cavity barriers, smoke detectors, sprinklers (including unauthorised isolation by occupants), materials used, and the performance of contractor and consultants, regarding design, specification and inspection.  Detailed consideration was given to Building Regulations Approved Document B and relevant British Standards, including whether “domestic” standards were applicable to this large atrium building.
Result: The case was settled after mediation.


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