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.

As an example, Swedish law now requires property owners to submit written reports to the municipality on the systematic fire prevention measures they have adopted.

When a building is let and used, it is rare for consideration to be given to the fire hazards that individual activities within it can create.

Even though tenancy contracts may involve some of the most valuable and sensitive historic sites, how many contracts cover the tenants’ responsibility to avoid fire?

Probably not many! It is also questionable whether the tenants are aware of their responsibility for the valuable items often stored in historically valuable buildings which, in any event, frequently have substandard fire protection.

At the same time, it is important that valuable items can be seen and used in their proper, authentic settings. But in such circumstances, we must also ensure, as far as possible, that sufficient resources, knowledge and awareness is promoted to preventing fires.

Equally, it is fundamental that we need to find solutions that do not unnecessarily intrude on the historical fabric and value of what we need to protect.

Building construction work, day to day activities, events and exhibitions in historic buildings all create different egrees of risks. And, it is much too easy to disconnect any fire detectors during such activities, without considering the consequences.

Poorly maintained electrical appliances and out of date wiring can also create a major hazard.

Human factors, lit candles, open fires and chimneys in poor condition are also responsible for starting many fires, as are lightning strikes. Historic buildings are often built from easily-ignited materials.

They can be located in isolated places, too far from a fire station to allow the fire brigade sufficient time to arrive to extinguish a fire before it has created some (often considerable) degree of damage and loss.

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