On July 18th, 2020, a fire has damaged the St Peter and St Paul Gothic Cathedral in Nantes. The fire appeared to be malicious in nature, since three triggers appear to have been found. The most significant damage was suffered by the organ, from the seventeenth century and the 16th century rose window.Continue reading “Nantes Gothic Cathedral 2020 Fire”
The 15 April 2019 Notre Dame Cathedral fire is an iconic event and deserves to be studied appropriately. In the following text will be presented some considerations based on the information available on the internet.
Following at least 30 years of tragic fires that have destroyed several important cultural resources all over the world, such an important renovation site should have been followed with the utmost care. That does not mean that fire could not start but that a different outcome could have been reasonably expected if a fire happened. So, in order to better understand what really happened and, more important, why it happened (the site does not have access to direct information), in the following sections, articles and posts containing information and news about the fire will be quoted, together with the available information about the context, and the fire extinguishing operations carried out by the Paris Fire Brigade.Continue reading “Notre Dame Fire: what we know about”
A ferocious fire has devastated – probably destroying the 50 percent irreparably – the School of Art, a masterpiece by the Scottish architect Rennie Mackintosh. The building was famous because, together with works by Victor Horta, Henry Van de Velde, Adolf Loos and the American Louis Sullivan, represented a peak of that style that marked the passage from nineteenth-century eclecticism to modernity, functionalism and even twentieth century rationalism. Continue reading “Second Fire almost Destroys the Glasgow School of Art”
On December 5th, 2017, a large bush fire in California has forced the evacuation of tens of thousands of people and destroyed hundreds of homes and other buildings. According the media no injuries or structural damage have been reported, although the museum has been threatened and closed to the public on Wednesday 5th.
In the night of July 15th, 1823, a fire destroyed a large part of the Papal Basilica of St. Paul outside the Walls in Rome. In the following years reconstruction works, particularly interesting for the historical evolution of fire safety measures, began. In particular, the fire protection system adopted seems to be the first case of automatic detection and alarm system ever designed in the world. Continue reading “The oldest fire detection system ever? The case of St. Paul outside the Wall Basilica in Rome”
When an historic center, a town or a district, is hit by an earthquake, managing the securing operations may reach an high degree of complexity. Different organisations, large number of engineers, cultural heritage experts and workers need to operate at the same time as fast as they can. Continue reading “Securing historic towns damaged by earthquakes: managing the complexity”
The project STORM (Safeguarding Cultural Heritage through Technical and Organisational Resources Management) has been funded by the Horizon 2020 EU Program and aims at defining a platform that managers of cultural heritage sites can use in improving preparedness, managing emergencies and planning restoration of damaged buildings.
The project specifically considers risks that the cultural sites have to face from either long-term degradation (whose action is far slower than the typical applications of feedback controls), or extreme traumatic events (whose action is much faster). Their common nature is the climate change. So, the specific scope of the project is creating a technological platform that allows a systematic comparison between a real (measured) state and a desired theoretical state.
On April, 6th 2009 the Italian city of L’Aquila and the surrounding area have been striken by a 6,3 Mw earthquake, causing 309 victims, more than 1.600 injured and 10 billion euro of damages.
On August 24th, 2016 a severe earthquake has hit an area in Central Italy approximately among the city of Amatrice and Norcia. The quake, that has been followed by months of replicas (especially on 26th October and 30th October) has killed nearly 300 people and damaged or destroyed a number of heritage buildings (churches, houses, walls, towers etc.).
In many cases, it has not been possible to implement with the necessary timing temporary shoring or putting in safety measures. Therefore, in the shocks happened the weeks after the 24th August, some buildings that had been damaged, but not destroyed, have collapsed.
The numerous debris, which was not possible to remove, due to administrative difficulties in moving them in appropriate areas, have prevented sometimes to approach the buildings and, therefore, to let firefighters operate safely.
Moreover, the sheer size of the area affected and the number of works to be protected caused delays in the processing of putting in safety works projects. The projects, in fact, must be drawn from engineers, but have to be approved by the competent body for the protection of cultural heritage.
The fire broke out on the same day Orthodox Christians around the world celebrated Easter. Hours before the fire, more than 1,000 people were inside in services between 10 a.m. and 12 p.m. to celebrated Easter.
The church was built in the early 1850s and was designated a city landmark in 1968.
At least 170 firefighters and 36 vehicles arrived on the scene to combat the flames. Plumes of smoke poured out of the church.
After six days it was not clear if any of the structure could be saved and repaired.
A fire broke out in the historic center of Luino (Italy). For reasons still under investigation a roof of a house situated on a courtyard went to the fire. The fire started around 211.00 pm, perhaps because of the overheating of a chimney. Aided by the wind that was blowing very strong at that time, the roofs of four buildings have been destroyed.
Twenty citizens have been evacuated. Several apartments were declared unfit for habitation, the damage amounted to hundreds of thousands of euro. the narrow streets of the old town have made it difficult to extinguish fire by firefighters.
On January 31st, 2015, one of Russia’s largest academic libraries, which contains millions of unique historic documents, has been severely damaged by the flames. A part of the building’s roof collapsed before many of fire fighters teams managed to contain the fire.
The fire has destroyed some 2,000 m2 of the Institute of Scientific Information on Social Sciences (Inion) in Moscow, created in 1918 and holding 10 mln documents, some of which date back to the 16th century.
The library has been founded in 1918, has the Russia’s most complete collection of documents of the League of Nations, the UN, and UNESCO, as well as parliamentarian reports of the United States (since 1789), the UK (since 1803), Italy (since 1897), and many others.
According to Russian media, investigators looking into the cause of the blaze suspect an electrical short-circuit was to blame.
On April 29th, 2015, a fire has destroyed the 18th century Palladian masterpiece of Clandon Park. The fire started in the house’s basement, and quickly spread to the roof. The Surrey Fire and Rescue Service has operated with a total of 16 fire engines and more than 80 personnel.
The timeline of the firefighters’ operations is well described in the Getsurrey page, which highlights some problems in water supply.
Although some paintings and furniture were rescued by staff, many tapestries and some items of porcelain were heavily damaged.
Managed by the National Trust since 1956, Clandon Park has been built in the 1720s and, before the fire, contained a large collection of 18th-century furniture, porcelain and textiles.
Paris firefighters on August 20th 2015 have fought a fire at the Cite des Sciences. The fire broke out between 02:30 and 03:00 local time in a building that was undergoing work, and has been fought by some 30 fire trucks and 120 firefighters.
Six floors of the museum have been impacted by the blaze, which took five hours to be brought under control.
Many Parisians took to social media to report the smell and seeing plumes of smoke. The building was empty when the fire started.
Wooden pallets, cardboard boxes, plasterbloard, electrical cables have been burning,and the heat was so fierce that firefighting teams were only able to work for 20 minutes at a time before having to be rotated. One of the firefighters was hospitalized with extreme heat exposure while the other suffered light injuries from smoke inhalation.
The complex draws around five million people a year and comprises four huge cube-shaped buildings.
The fire occurred in a 10,000-square metre cube that was being fitted out for shops, and was due to open on October 15. Smoke and flames damaged the area ravaging a 110-million-euro plan to turn the building into an area for shops.
The fire alarm system was not operational because of the works.
The Citè de la Science et de l’industrie complex is one of the biggest science museums in Europe.
Historic District Protection Planning A Case Study – Lexington, Virginia
The City of Lexington, located in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, was established as the town of Lexington in 1778. Today, Lexington has a permanent population of about 7500 with another 4000-5000 students attending Washington and Lee University and the Virginia Military Institute from September through May. Lexington is well known for its architecture and historic preservation. Tourism and higher education are its major industries and its downtown is a thriving collection shops and restaurants, many housed in restored buildings dating from the late 18th to the early 20th century. Lexington is a typical small city in southern America: many buildings in the downtown area have party walls, construction tends to be brick exteriors over wood framing with combustible roofs, and some older buildings are completely wood frame construction. The streets in Lexington, while not as narrow as many streets in Europe, are narrow when compared to the size of most modern fire apparatus.
The Lexington Presbyterian Church Fire
Lexington Presbyterian, a Greek revival style church, was completed in 1845 and it is one of the centerpieces of Lexington’s history and its visual appeal. Lexington was home to Confederate General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, and he worshipped at the church in the years leading up to the American Civil War. The sanctuary underwent some renovation between 1845 and 2000, but overall the building changed very little and there was no fire detection or fire suppression system installed when in the summer of 2000 the governing board hired a contractor to repaint the exterior of the building. The board, aware that the dry, 155 year old long-leaf yellow pine wood in the building posed a greater fire hazard than newer material, had the contractor chosen for the work demonstrate the hot-iron technique he proposed to use to soften the paint before scrapping it off. The board approved the process and the contractor began work. On Tuesday, July 18, as workmen were using a hot iron to strip paint off of a cornice around the base of the church’s clock tower, the hot iron apparently ignited a fire in the roof area of the wood frame structure that destroyed one sanctuary and caused the clock tower to collapse.
According to fire investigators from the Virginia State Fire Marshall’s Office, workmen removing paint from a cornice at the base of the clock tower noticed smoke at about 9:30 a.m. The workmen searched for the source of the smoke and found a fire inside the clock tower behind the cornice they had been working on. The workmen attempted to extinguish the fire, and when they could not, they notified the Lexington Volunteer Fire Department. Some volunteer firefighters responded quickly, but since it was a normal workday and most of the members were at work, many were delayed getting to the church and calls for mutual aid went out to other nearby jurisdictions. By 10:00 a.m., heavy smoke was pouring out around the base of the clock tower.
Fire fighters began to battle the blaze with ladder pipes shortly after 10:00 a.m., but by that time the fire in the clock tower was fully developed. Firefighters worked to save the clock tower through the morning; however, the combination of the highly combustible wood frame construction of the church and the amount of water needed to fight the blaze put a strain on the city’s aging water system.
At about noon the clock tower finally collapsed. Fire investigators pointed out that the firefighters did an excellent job keeping the fire from spreading to other structures and because of their efforts no one was injured when the clock tower collapsed into the street.
￼￼Damage to the building was estimate at $2.5 million, and shortly after the fire the church board announced the church would be restored to its original condition and restoration work began soon afterward. The restoration was substantially completed when a new clock tower was installed on March 5, 2002.
A senior architectural historian with the Virginia Department of Historic Resources pointed out after the fire that using heat to strip paint on old wood fixtures that are hollow or that cannot be seen from behind, like the cornices that were being stripped at Lexington Presbyterian where rats or birds sometimes build nests, can cause combustible materials to catch fire without workers knowing it.
In August 2000 the president of the Rockbridge County Historic Society called and asked me to come to Lexington to share information about how Colonial Williamsburg protects its historic buildings and to see if some of those things might be adapted to help Lexington improve protection in its historic district. She also wanted to know how the concepts in the 1997 edition of NFPA 909, Standard for Protection of Cultural Resources might be applied to historic districts. As a first step she arranged a one-day workshop for members of Lexington’s city government, merchants, and other interested parties. The workshop was surprisingly well attended and during the discussions it became evident to the political leaders that much of what made Lexington an attraction for tourism could be lost in a single fire. After the workshop I met with the mayor, the chief of the volunteer fire department, and the president of the Rockbridge County Historic Society to brainstorm ideas to improve fire safety in Lexington’s historic district. In the discussion we identified four major challenges:
- Many of the buildings in the historic district have party walls, and some interconnect at the attic level. The fire department was aware of some of the interconnections; however, the fire chief suspected many more existed that were not on any drawings or building plans.
- The Commonwealth of Virginia has a statewide fire prevention code, but in a city as small as Lexington that has a volunteer fire department no one locally enforces the code and any inspections have to be done by the State Fire Marshall’s office. As with most state agencies, the Virginia State Fire Marshall’s office has a small staff to cover a very large area. In practice, the only inspections the State Fire Marshall’s office can do are in the largest state-owned facilities; so, there is very little, if any, enforcement of fire prevention regulations in privately owned buildings in cities like Lexington.
- Lexington’s aging water supply system was challenged to provide enough water to fight the fire in the church and the fire chief expressed concern about its ability to handle a fire spreading from building to building in the downtown area through interconnecting attics.
- Access is difficult for fire apparatus in many parts of the downtown area because of traffic congestion and narrow streets, particularly during the summer when tourism is at its height.
Two initiatives were undertaken as a result of the discussion:
- The Rockbridge County Historic Society and the Lexington Volunteer Fire Department agreed to focus efforts on a public education program in fire safety management. To help with the project, local residents with backgrounds in fire protection and fire suppression were recruited to conduct public awareness campaigns, fire safety educational programs, and voluntary fire safety inspections for merchants and home owners. Lexington is a popular retirement area for professionals from urban areas in the northeast United States, and several highly qualified individuals volunteered to assist with the project.
- The Lexington City Council agreed to create a position in the Building Department for an inspector who would devote 50% of his time to building code issues and the other 50% to conducting inspections to enforce the Virginia Statewide Fire Prevention Code
More than a decade has passed and over those years I’ve drawn the following lessons from my experience in Lexington.
1. The fire codes and standards in place at the time, and since, including the most recent editions of NFPA 909, Code for the Protection of Cultural Resource Properties – Museums, Libraries and Places of Worship and NFPA 914, Code for Fire Protection of Historic Structures provide no guidance on planning and implementing fire protection programs for historic districts. The NFPA Cultural Resources Committee has been discussing the issues for several years, and it hopes to provide some guidance on the subject in the 2015 edition of NFPA 914. In 2000, the NFPA Cultural Resources Committee was several years away from the paradigm shift it made in the 2010 and 2013 editions of NFPA 909 and the upcoming 2015 edition of NFPA 914 that take an all-hazards approach to protection planning. The shift was crucial because it focused protection planning efforts on the outcome of a comprehensive vulnerability analysis. Such an approach is especially important when thinking of protection in historic districts where one way to approach the issue is to think of the historic district as a very large multiple use occupancy building with multiple owners /tenants (like an apartment building or condominium). From that perspective the district is analogous to a museum building that contains a collection – that is the individual buildings inside the district – and provides the support infrastructure, utilities, and services to maintain them. The planning issues are similar, as well. For example, egress is a primary concern in both, particularly during an earthquake, flood, or conflagration; however, ingress is also a significant issue for both because the collection (buildings, artifacts, or works of art) must be protected in place and to do that, emergency responders must have ready access. Other common issues include water supply (or lack thereof), occupant notification, fire department response time, fire prevention, security and planning for emergency operations and damage limitation.
2. The assessment we did in Lexington was flawed because it addressed only a few of the vulnerabilities, so the resulting action plans only scratched the surface of the problem. The steps taken in Lexington after the fire in 2000 only addressed two limited aspects of the problem (education and enforcement) but failed to address the significant infrastructure issues (water supply, limited availability of volunteer firefighters during the normal work day, fire department access during the busy summer months in the downtown area, installation of automatic sprinklers, etc.). A comprehensive vulnerability assessment of all the hazards is the key to a successful protection plan in a building or in an historic district.
3. Dividing an inspector between building department duties and fire prevention code enforcement probably is not a sustainable model. Building departments are partially self-sustaining because they generate revenues from building permits and plan reviews while fire prevention activities generate no direct revenue. As a result, when municipalities face budget shortfalls, as they have since 2008, they tend to focus on activities that generate income and that moves fire prevention code enforcement to the back burner. After all, governmental memories are short and fires are low probability events even if the consequences can be devastating.
On 10 March 2012, the castle of Krasna Horka in Slovak Republic caught fire, allegedly due to burning of dry grass by two children who were trying to light cigarettes.
The roof of the castle, the exposition in the Gothic palace and the bell tower were completely destroyed. The heat melted down three bells from the bell tower. The building sustained extensive damage. Initially, it was thought that many of its historic artefacts were destroyed. The vast majority of exhibits remained undamaged and only the upper part of the castle (including collections) was destroyed. The Slovak National Museum stated that 90% of the collections were undamaged.
According to the firemen who intervened during the incident, the fire started as a consequence of incautious burning of dry grass. On 11 March 2012, the police spokesman of the Košice region stated that “the grass caught fire after two boys (aged 11 and 12) attempted to light up a cigarette. Following that, the fire spread and reached the castle
On 9 February 2009 the Beijing Television Cultural Center has been damaged by a massive blaze. The building, in the centre of Beijing, was adjacent to the CCTV Headquarters. At 8:27 p.m. the entire building caught fire on the last day of the festivities marking the Chinese new year and was put out six hours later. A nearby unauthorised fireworks display caused the fire.
The cause of the fire has been linked to a massive Chinese New Year fireworks display in the compound, authorized by CCTV itself, without the permission or participation from Beijing police, the Beijing Fire Department, Beijing City government, or any other governmental department.
CCTV had ignored three consecutive police interventions and warnings and had four television cameras trained on the multi-million yuan fireworks, which consisted of nearly 700 high explosive pyrotechnic devices.
Six hundred firefighters arrived on the scene to fight the blaze, which lasted five hours and caused one death and seven injuries.
The fire began on the building’s roof and spread to the lower floors, fed by high winds. Toxic fumes and a lack of working sprinklers were said to have hampered efforts to extinguish the fire.
The complex’s main building, the doughnut-shaped structure, was not damaged. The building, which was originally scheduled to open in 2009, did not seen any progress towards opening or being visibly repaired by the end of that year.
Even if the risk of looting has been minimized by Egyptian army, on 28th January, 2011, the ruling party headquarters building next door to the museum was in flames. The protesters torched it during the mass anti-government protests which swept across the capital. The potential collapse of a neighboring building caused by fire due to the riots has threatened the priceless artifacts kept in Cairo’s Egyptian Museum. Eventually, the building did not collapse, but if destroyed, it would have fallen over the museum.
Previously, some Egyptians armed with truncheons, created a human chain at the museum’s front gate to prevent looters from making off with any of its artefacts. Some looters have had the possibility to vandalize two mummies, ripping their heads off , taking some small artifacts out of their glass cases and clearing out the museum gift shop.
An interesting report about the thefts and the looting that has been perpetrated by the some 1.100 people who entered the Museum during the riots can be found in this Suzie Thomas report of TraffickingCulture.org.
In the same days, rumors that attacks were planned against monuments prompted authorities to erect barriers and guard Karnak Temple while tanks were positioned around Luxor’s museum.Continue reading “Egyptian Museum and the 2011 Threat of Riots Fires in Cairo (Egypt)”
A disturbed man has started a fire on April 19th 2011 in Barcelona’s Cathedral Sagrada Familia, Antoni Gaudì’s masterpiece. The man of around 55 has been found with several lighters in his pocket.
Around 1.000 people were evacuated from the cathedral, which is one of the most popular tourist sites in Spain’s second-largest city.
The blaze was extinguished and four people were treated for smoke inhalation. The fire seems to have caused a significant damage to the sacristy where it was ignited and it burned for about 45 minutes.
The fire occurred in the church’s crypt, where prests prepare for Mass, open for religious purposes and it caused some damage to the crypt. The church has been temporarily closed to the public.
Some tourists saw smoke coming from inside the sacristy and alerted authorities.
A major fire on March 21st, 2011, broke inside the Elysee Montmartre Theatre. Paris fire department received the first calls for help came at about 7:45 am from buildings adjacent to the theater. The interior was extensively damaged due to the fact that the theater held many fabrics and wooden pieces and was full of flammable materials. Apparently, the roof burned and its collapse caused an increase of air, and a bigger fire. The entire stage burned down and the fire spewed plumes of smoke over the Montmartre neighborhood.
The fire was under control by approximately 11:30. It is believed that the conflagration was caused by a short-circuit. 26 fire engines and 16 rescue centers have been mobilized.
The fire has destroyed a two-century-old theater, birthplace of French cabaret-style cancan dancing. The internal structural supports were designed by Gustave Eiffel, famed for the Eiffel Tower.
On december 29th. 2010, some seventy firefighters from the Fire station of Rochefort, Beauraing, Power and Dinant have been working for almost an hour onthe site of the abbey of Saint-Remy Rochefort, where a major fire broke in the evening, around at 6,30 p.m.. The Abbey is famous for the production of beer.
A problem of electric generators is the basis of the blaze which resulted in the burning of the building. A reserve containing furniture was first affected, then a cabin room containing high–voltage and electrical box but, though the blaze has destroyed much of the building’s timber structure, no injuries were reported.
The area of the abbey hosting the tanks of the brewery have not been affected, as well as the library. Because of snowfall, electrical problems affecting the brewery, generators were placed in a shed to reduce incidents. The monks were taking their evening meal when the fire erupted. Ciney Road, which passes close to the abbey was closed to traffic so as not to hamper rescue work. About 35 people work daily inthe Abbey of Saint–Remy which is brewed Trappist Rochefort.
The Abbey was built in 1230, destroyed in 1797 and built again in 1887.
On December 27th, 2010 a fire occurred in one of the major monuments in Lucca, the Guinigi chapel within the complex of San Francesco. The building dates from the second half of the 300 and it was subject to restoration and modernization works. The smoke has completely blackened medieval frescoes and decorations.
According to a reconstruction, the first flames have started when the workers engaged in the construction of a ventilation system, had just started to weld two sleeves of polyurethane tubing that is approximately 80 cm in diameter by an electric welder. Probably, on this occasion there was a short circuit. The same workers have tried to stop the fire by closing the vents of the ventilation system, then tried to extinguish the fire with extinguishers but the flames were too high and the air no more breathable.
In a short time, fire and smoke have saturated the whole chapel blacking out the plaster beneath which lie the fourteenth-century decor. Two teams of firefighters have prevented the flames from reaching the other rooms of the museum complex.
According to first assessments, damages reach 100.000 euros.