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Retail Buildings

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.

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