Malfunctioning Sprinkler in Archive

Fire SprinklerA malfunctioning sprinkler head reduced some historical documents kept in Columbia (USA)  by the Missouri State Historical Society to waterlogged paper and soggy cardboard on October 1st, 2009.

Columbia firefighters arrived after receiving a report of a fire alarm sounding in the library and they have found the source of the alarm to be an activated sprinkler head in a storage room. The room was used to hold documents, in the lower level of the library.

Probably, it was some sort of mechanical failure in the head of the sprinkler system, which did cause water discharge. Firefighters shut off the sprinkler head and began cleaning the storage room. “In some cases, they may not be salvageable,” Executive Director Gary Kremer said.

Three shelves of books and documents were soaked. No one was in the room when the sprinkler head was triggered. “If the same system of sprinklers is throughout the facility, there are rooms — for example our art gallery — has tens of millions of dollars of artwork in it,” Mr Kremer said. “If the sprinklers were to malfunction there, that would be a catastrophe.”

Are Wireless Sensors Suitable to Heritage Buildings?

1Wireless sensors can be used with fair advantages in historical buildings. They do not need the works that normally have to be carried out with traditional appliances.

In order to understand if this kind of sensor fits with the performances of reliability and effectiveness, Prof Mecocci (Siena University) and Mr Barneschi (Italian National Fire Corps) have studied the problem in order to gather data to develop specific guidelines and installation procedures capable of granting the proper performance and security level.

One of the sub-goals of the study was to gather real data from real operative condition to guide us toward the above main objective.


Fire Effects on Archaic Materials, Cultural Resources and Archeology

P1040996As specialists know, one of the main problems in applying fire safety engineering to cultural heritage is the lack of data about the behavior of artifacts and materials used in historic buildings to fire. Such problem concerns also the effect of extinguishing agents to the same materials.

U.S Department of the Interior – Bureau of Land Department, has published on its website ( a page dedicated to the behavior of historic materials to fire. The study (Bare Bones Guide to Fire Effects on Cultural Resources For Cultural Resource Specialists), by Ms Kate Winthrop, synthesizes some of the technical information available on the effects of fire on cultural resources. In particular, much of the data published  is from drafts of articles for a publication to be released under the USFS Rocky Mountain Research Station “Rainbow” series.

The main issue of the page are:

  • Fire Effects on Lithics
  • Fire Effects on Ceramics
  • Fire Effects on Organic Materials
  • Fire Effects on Historic Materials
  • Fire Effects on Inorganic Architectural Materials
  • Fire Effects on Rock Art
  • Effects of Fire Suppression on Cultural Resources
  • Effects of Fire on Archaeological Sites
  • Protection Protocols

Damage Limitation Teams: How to Improve Safety Management

dltManagement is an important part of fire safety of the built heritage and of cultural resources.  To ensure permanent risk awareness it’s vital to keep documents of premises and collections, to assess artifacts at risk and structures to regularly update documents. Documentation on interventions (training, emergency rescue services‚ near misses, restoration and conservation) and documents of organisation (charts of hierarchy, Management Plans, regulations and controls) are important too.

Organizing Damage Limitation Teams it’s another part of the strategy. Every structure, in fact, should have the availability of a group of persons who can help rescuers in taking in safe places every object could be damaged by a fire.

Mr Wolfgang Kippes (Schönbrunn Company) explains how fire safety is managed in Wien’s Schönbrunn Castle. The slides that can be downloaded were presented during the 2008 International Conference  in Siena (Italy) Cultural Heritage and Fire Protection Issues:


Fire Risk and Restoration works: 6 years of Fire Data in Venice

1The problem of restoration-rehabilitation sites fires and their consequent severe damages to the historic-artistic heritage seems to not receive the due attention yet. There is probably a lack of adequate information, which would allow such heavy risk emerge and enable to establish the necessary landmark upon which the consequent initiatives could be organized.

The contribution of Mr Stefano Zanut (Italian Firefighters Corps), which is a part of a research carried out by Venice University Institute of Architecture (I.U.A.V. – Istituto Universitario di Arhitettura di Venezia), aims to begin filling up that gap through the data analysis provided by the Firefighters Corps operating in Venice, where, because of building fabric typology existing there, every of its building sites can be identified as “restoration site” of an heritage building.

The paper has been presented during the international meeting Cultural Heritage and Fire Protection Issue –  Siena, 23rd May, 2008: zanut_110_118

Did Rome’s Colosseum suffered a post earthquake fire in 271 A.D.?

ColosseumIn 217 A.D. Rome’s Colosseum was slightly damaged by a fire. Since Rome is built in a seismic area and there is an earthquake reported during September 217 A.D. ,Rome Univerity  La Sapienza’s Professor Enzo Cartapati has studied the possibility of a fire event due to the seismic event.

Together with Maurizio Cerone, Prof. Cartapati has conducted a structural analysis of Colosseum’s stone columns, in order to understand if actually the fire occurred after the seismic shock.

The presentation of such work, presented during the April 11th 2003 Conference “Integrating Historic Preservation with Security, Fire Protection, Life safety and Building Management Systems”,  is downloadble from this website:


Rome 2003 Conference “Integrating Historic Preservation with Security, Fire Protection, Life safety and Building Management Systems”

aquilaOn April 10-11th 2003 the Conference “Integrating Historic Preservation with Security, Fire Protection, Life safety and Building Management Systems” has been held in Italy, in Rome. The Conference has been hosted by the Italian Fire Corps (CNVVF) structure which studies for fire safety of the built heritage, together with the NFPA 909 and 914 Committees.

The main topics of the Conference have faced the problems which arise with the management of safety conditions in cultural and heritage buildings.

The Conference proceedings can be downloaded by this website:


Fire Ratings of Archaic Materials


The US Department of Housing and Urban Development – Office of Policy Development and research ( has issued in 2007 the second edition of the Guidelines on Fire Rating of Archaic Materials, produced by the National Institute of Building Sciences.

Older buildings often contain materials that are fire safe but not listed in current fire ratings sources. This lack of documentation hinders the modernization and reuse of our nation’s building stock. The Guideline on Fire Ratings of Archaic Materials and Assemblies is a compilation of fire ratings from earlier sources for a wide vari ety of materials and assemblies found in buildings from the nineteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries. This guideline also provides methods for calculating the fire resistance of general classes of archaic materials and assemblies for which no documentation can be found.

First published in 1980, this guideline has found widespread use and acceptance among architects, engineers, preservationists, and code officials. It has been incorporated into numerous state and local building codes, three model code publications, and two NFPA standards.

Now, for the Partnership for Advancing Technology in Housing (PATH) program, the Guideline on Fire Ratings of Archaic Materials and Assemblieshas been updated to reflect changes in assessment techniques and to provide additional information on doors. HUD is pleased to reissue this important and time-tested publication, knowing that it will remain a valuable resource for preserving and reusing our nation’s housing and building stock.

The publication is downloadble also from this website: fire_ratings

Car Museum Suspected Arson

WreckDenghbig’s (North Wales, UK) Cae Dai cars museum has suffered extensive damages after a fire broke out on December 1st, 2009, night in a suspected arson that has damaged a collection of tens of vehicles.
Fire engines attended the fire at the Cae Dai museum after receiving a call at 11.07 pm on Tuesday.
A man that was staying at a caravan on the museum site, was taken to hospital by ambulance as a precautionary measure to be treated for possible smoke inhalation.
Fire and Rescue Service said: “The building suffered extensive damage and it is believed that all the vehicles were destroyed in the fire.”
A caravan situated near the building was also completely destroyed.
Firefighters used two main jets and two sets of breathing apparatus to tackle the fire. An investigation is now being conducted by Police into the cause of the incident, but it is too early to confirm if it was arson.

Fire Destroys Historic Inn and Restaurant

1At approximately 8:00 a.m. on Saturday, October 29, 2005, The Reluctant Panther Inn & Restaurant, a landmark in Manchester, Vermont (USA) for decades, was devastated by a fire that destroyed the main inn building, the restaurant, and the tavern.
This building was a 3 story 1850’s vintage wood-framed, balloon construction building.
The staff was tending to their morning chores when they went to the basement to investigate an odor of smoke. Upon entering the basement laundry area, the owner witnessed a fire within the barrel of the commercial dryer.
He immediately activated the building fire alarm using a manual pull station and called 9-1-1. The building contained only 2 guests at the time of the incident and their evacuation was facilitated by the fire alarm and hotel staff.
Upon the arrival of the Manchester Fire Department, fire was found in the walls and floor/ceiling assemblies of all floors and there was fire showing in the attic space. Suppression efforts were hampered by balloon framed construction and the installation of false ceilings and floors during previous renovation projects. About 75 firefighters from Rutland and Bennington Counties fought courageously throughout the day, but the 150 year old structure was declared a total loss by Fire Chief Norman Bowen by the end of the day. Continue reading “Fire Destroys Historic Inn and Restaurant”

Built Heritage: Fire Loss to Historic Buildings – Associated Publications

costCOST Action C17 “Built Heritage: Fire Loss to Historic Buildings” has contributed to gather a wide variety of publications about fire safety and fire risk assessment of historic buildings. In the downloadble document  Part4_Pages_267-280 (which is one of the parts of the final proceedings of the Action) it is possible to find some of the Cost C17 proceedings Associated Publications.

Decision making tools in fire safety of historic buildings

In analysing fire risks posed to historic buildings, the use of statistical data and lessons learned for managerial needs may be considered an important tool. Why do we need these tools and what is the knowledge provided and what is the problem with it?
In analysing the trends of fire risks we have to consider, that most of the listed objects are in use (housing, residential, etc.). Statistical comparison will be more likely related to existing statistics on residential buildings.
Every building management needs clear indication about the priorities of building upgrading. As the existing data bank systems are national reports from several European countries there is no possibility comparing the categories used.
Although empirical data are poor overall, conclusions can be drawn. The main risks appear to be (covering 75% of all cases) providing useful help for building managers when prioritising their investment:
– hot building and maintenance works (often in the attic area)
– old electric wiring
– open fire provided by neglect, inhabitants, staff members (candles,
smoking, etc.)
– arson
More information can be obtained from Cost C17 Action proceedings (WG4
Property Management Strategies).

Fire of historical building in Naples (Italy)

fire residential naples

On November 5th, 2009, a building in the historical center in Naples (Italy) has been damaged by a fire occurred in a flat in the early afternoon hours (around 2.00 p.m.).

The building has a residential use and the fire seems to have been ignited by a faulty electrical appliance in the bedroom of an apartment at the third floor. The occupants of the apartments escaped, as the fire grew very fastly and made it impossible to extinguish it.

Also other residents could escape immediately, while a woman and her five children who lived in the building have been saved by firefighters.

Continue reading “Fire of historical building in Naples (Italy)”

Castello di Moncalieri (Italy) fire

moncalieriOn April 5th, 2008, Italy’s Castello di Moncalieri (near Turin), a royal residence on World Heritage List, has been seriously damaged by a fire occurred under the wooden roof. The fire has been seen around 5 a.m. by a bypasser, on saturday morning. Firefighters have been working with 30 teams and needed several hours to extinguish the fire.

It is possible that the fire has been caused by  renovation works which interested also the wooden structures of the roof.

Three important rooms of the historical castle (built in 1100) located in the tower where fire probably started have been completely destroyed. The massive bed of the King of Piemonte has been severely damaged by the fall of the stories of the tower.

Damages sum up to 10.000.000 euros.

Royal Palaces of Abomey (Benin) fire

On 21 January 2009 the Royal Palaces of Abomey (Benin) have damaged by a fire  which destroyed some buildings. In particular, the fire seems to have been caused by a brushfire. The flames have consumed the straw roof and the framework of six buildings (which enclosed two temples to Agasu, the tombs of King Agonglo, King Ghezo, and each king’s 41 wives). The fire run fastly due to the strong winds.

Even if the alarm has been raised and the arrival of help has been immediate, when the rescuers arrived the buildings were engulfed in flames.

The restoration will include drying the water damage and the installation of fire hydrants.

Water Mist in Cultural Heritage Buildings

cowiWater mist for fire protection is a relatively new technology with specific advantages to the built heritage. Many fixed installations are commissioned throughout Europe and many research activities are ongoing or being considered.

The standard making processes does not currently address heritage applications, but performance- based codes are favorable for introducing new water mist. The COST Action C17 WG here reports on the experience this far and presents basic knowledge about water mist for the heritage community. Challenges, implications and perspectives of the technology are outlined in order to ensure the best protection of the European heritage possible. A guide on how to accept or approve of mist systems in heritage is given in the white paper (dated July 2004) from Riksantikvaren – The Norwegian Directorate for Cultural Heritage (RNDCH).

Water Mist in Heritage Report 12 July 2004

Firefighting equipment and techniques for museum

cowi1This report, compiled on behalf of the Riksantikvaren the Norwegian Directorate for Cultural Heritage (RNDCH) and Historic Scotland, provides an overview examination of available firefighting equipment and techniques for museum staff to use in the early stages of a fire.
Six categories of hand held extinguishers, three techniques for fighting fire without extinguishers and nine automatic small extinguishers for use in museums, galleries or historical buildings have been evaluated in terms of ease of use, extinguishing efficiency, secondary damage, maintenance and cost.
Results from a series of tests on such equipment are included. Thirteen sample artefact materials were subjected to hot smoke and to six different extinguishing media.
Reference samples were compared to those subjected to smoke only and those
subjected to both smoke and extinguishing methods. The test research was commissioned by the Norwegian Archive, Library and Museum Authority (ABM, formerly NMU) and RNDCH, and carried out by COWI AS in cooperation with the The Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research (NIKU).


Minimum Invasive Fire Detection for Protection of Heritage

cowiFire detection systems in general are effective fire safety measures for heritage
buildings and museums. Still, we are faced with these challenges of detectors and
inherent cable installations:
• Irreversibly impair fabric or décor
• Renovation and maintenance incur irreversible damage to fabric or décor
• Aesthetically invasive measures in sensitive environments
• Detectors do not respond to fires as quickly as anticipated
• Excessive nuisance alarms: detectors disconnected, or downgraded response
• Cable installations increase risk of fire from lightning
• Application may be inappropriate in terms of cost, efficiency, obtrusiveness
A summary of technologies used for minimizing invasive detector installations has
been made in this publication written by Geir Jensen, COWI AS, Norway. Results are evaluated and recommendations given.


Analysis of Sprinkler Failures in Listed Heritage Buildings

Sprinkler systems are common in commercial and industrial buildings. In cultural heritage buildings, there are sometimes concerns about their use. The unintentional activation can damage paper documents or other artifacts that must be protected by moisture. Thus, the study of sprinkler reliability in such kind of building is important to develop a more effective strategy of protection against fire. The paper “Analysis of Sprinkler Failures in Listed Heritage Buildings – Analysis of unintended activations of water based extinguishing systems in Norwegian heritage buildings February 2006” has been written by Geir Jensen, Arvid Reitan and John Ivar Utstrandf for the Riksantikvaren (The Norwegian Directorate for Cultural Heritage – RNDCH) and has been presented during the Cost C17 Action (Fire Loss to Built Heritage). It can be downloaded by this post:

Riksvantikvaren Analysis of Sprinkler Failures in Listed Heritage Buildings

Inert Air Venting for Protection of Heritage

cowiA fire protection system useful for the purposes of cultural heritage buildings based on the use of oxygen depleted atmospheres is the Hypoxic Air. This system has been presented during the Cost C17 Action meetings. In particular, in the downloadable document “Inert_Air_Presentation_for_COST_C17_Ljubljana_May_2006”  (presented during the joint NFPA – Cost C17 action meeting, held in Ljubljana on May 2006), it is possible to find some of the more important information about this system. The presentation has been made by Geir Jensen (COWI AS, Norway) and Jan Holmberg Department (Building Sciences, Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden).


Ursulinenhof fire (Linz, Austria)

uDate: June 3rd, 2009, early afternoon

Building: built in 1679, used as cultural provincial center, many cultural and artistic artifacts

Cause: maintenance works at the underground level (angle grinder being used)

Damages: roof structures, inner rooms, up to five millions euros – no injuries reported – 18 months to be restored

Other: Firefighters evacuated paintings and other artifacts. Passer-by (or workers) reported the fire, probably no sprinkler or fire detection system active at the moment of the fire.

Petruzzelli theater reopening (Bari, Italy)

Petruzzelli Theater fire

On October 27th, 1991, the historical theater “Petruzzelli” in Bari (Italy) has been destroyed by an arson that left only the masonry shell. The original theater was opened on February 1903, with 404 seats.

On October 5th, 2009, the theater reopened. The total costs of reconstruction works after the fire, that occurred during refurbishment works, are around 50 million euros.