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.

Evaluating Physical Interventions as a Function of Hazard and Risk

Because historic structures vary by condition, extent of surviving historic fabric, past and proposed use and other factors, no universal means exists to evaluate inherent fire safety or the impact of potential improvements. Further, buildings have different roles in the ongoing operations of their institutions, ranging from organisations where exhibition of the building is a primary purpose, to those where the primary value is associated with the ability to house the functions required of that organization, eg schools or commercial ventures. Decisions regarding physical interventions should be appropriate to recognised hazards, which may be identified by a building survey or by review of relevant statistics.

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Higher risk hazard occupancies such as residential uses, or higher hazard     operations such as those using flammable materials, warrant higher levels  of intervention than occupancies presenting minimal risk. Each building  warrants an assessment of its unique hazards, as identified.

Fire risk assessments are tools for analysing site-specific hazards, and       ultimately selecting fire safety interventions that will satisfy an    organisationÕs established objectives. For historic buildings, fire risk  assessments consider the hazards in the context of the ability to undertake  architectural improvements, or to install technological systems in a manner    that has an acceptable physical and visual impact, and the approaches  established by building regulations or permitted alternatives.

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).


Scottish Historic Buildings National Fire Database. Annual Report 2008-2009


The Minute of Agreement between Historic  Scotland and the Scottish Fire and  Rescue  Services  for the development of The Scottish Historic  Buildings National  Fire Database (SHBNFD)  continues to provide the structure to enable  Scotland to  remain a world leader in the  protection of the built heritage from the  devastating  effects of fire.

Mike Coull of Grampian Fire and Rescue Service  continues to serve in the role  of Heritage Co-  ordinator for the Scottish Fire Services. This post is  considered  crucial in not only delivering the key objectives set out in the Minute of  Agreement, but also to enable further research developing strategies with the Fire S ervice that will contribute to the protection of the built heritage.

The current Minute of Agreement was signed in October 2007 and sets out a wider set of outcomes to reflect the fact that the SHBNFD is much more than a database, it is a project setting out objectives driving forward the protection of the built heritage. To meet those objectives it was vital to ensure effective partnership working, through this it has been possible to establish protocols with each of the eight Scottish fire and rescue services for the exchange of information on Category B-listed buildings.

This Annual Summary Report aims to demonstrate that significant progress has been made in many of the outcomes identified within the Minute of Agreement over the past twelve months. In addition to the agreed outcomes, two significant tasks have been undertaken; a major International conference on ‘Fire Protection of the Built Heritage’ was held at Elphinstone Hall, Aberdeen on 5th May 2009 and a research project involving a series of fire tests on historic doors. Further details of these two initiatives are included within this report.


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).


Fire is a constant threat to cultural heritage

Fire has always been a threat to cultural historic valuable buildings and surroundings.

The level of loss is unacceptable, yet most of us instinctively believe that this will not happen to us and, consequently we make, at best, half-hearted attempts to deal with the issue. It is, quite simply, too difficult for many to imagine how easily an accident can happen, and the magnitude of the resulting damage, even when we succeed in preventing the fire from spreading.

Most property owners believe that as long as they comply with current legislation, their buildings will be sufficiently protected. But this is not the case. The primary aim of most current legislation is to save life, not to save buildings. That said, emerging new laws are starting to broaden their remit and improve the standards to some degree. Continue reading “Fire is a constant threat to cultural heritage”

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.

COST Action C17: Built Heritage: Fire Loss to Historic Buildings

cost c17 action booklet publications fire loss to built heritage

Cost Action C17 – Fire loss to historic buildings – has been an important activity on fire safety of historical and cultural buildings developed with EU funds that ended its activity in 2006. The intention of the Action was to address the significant physical and cultural loss of Europe’s built heritage to the damaging effects of fire.

Cost Action C17 (financed by the European Science Foundation under the European project of Cooperation in the field of science and technology program) has been active in the years 2002-2006 and has focused its  work on:

  • establishing a well-documented survey of up-to-date technical expertise to assist in influencing future developments in fire protection technology for use in historic buildings
  • defining an appropriate range of passive and active technical equipment countermeasures
  • considering alternative approaches to assist in stemming current loss levels
  • organising a series of conferences and/or workshops to develop thinking for effective risk assessment techniques and risk mapping using insurance company and other data
  • promoting findings and benefits of relevant risk assessment methodologies and property management support
  • effecting know-how dissemination through publishing proceedings and recommendations

Continue reading “COST Action C17: Built Heritage: Fire Loss to Historic Buildings”

FSE and heritage buildings

Fire Safety Engineering is the most powerful tool for assessing fire risk in heritage, historical or cultural buildings. Using techniques of performance based approach to solve the problems of protecting cultural and historical buildings from fire at the moment it’s the only possible way that allows to match safety needs with conservation issues.

Current prescriptive approach, infact, does not allow to address to the extremely various problems that safety consultants have to face in protecting from fire.

Currently, there aren’t many studies about the use of Fire Safety Engineering in cultural or heritage buildings protection. Are worth to be cited the Cost C 17 Action “Fire Loss to Built Heritage”, an activity funded by the European Science Foundation which ended its work in 2006 (whose paper are widely published in this site) and the activity of NFPA, which has published and keep updated two important standards: 909 (Code for the Protection of Cultural Resource Properties – Museums, Libraries, and Places of Worship) and 914 (Code for Fire Protection in Historic Structures). Continue reading “FSE and heritage buildings”