Fire Threat to Stones of Historic and Cultural Heritage Buildings

Many historic buildings are made with stone structures. In addition to the various benefits that this type of material, which is diversified by composition, aggregation and geometry according to historical periods and geographical areas, it must be remembered that exposure to fire constitutes in most cases an important vulnerability. Even recently, several cases of fire have highlighted the importance of designing from fire, in buildings belonging to the cultural heritage, building elements to which adequate attention is not always paid.

Plan and section of the Guarini Chapel in Turin, where the Holy Shroud is kept. The Chapel has been severely damaged by the fire on April 11, 1997.
Plan and section of the Guarini Chapel in Turin, where the Holy Shroud is kept. The Chapel has been severely damaged by the fire on April 11, 1997. Two thirds of its marble structural stones were damaged by the heat. he complex structure of the dome of the Chapel of the Holy Shroud, severely damaged by the fire of 1997, that was rebuilt using stones taken from a quarry opened for the occasion. The opening of the new quarry was due to the need to replace the numerous stone elements destroyed by the effects of the fire or no longer able to perform their load-bearing function. (image from Wikipedia

The case of the fire that seriously damaged the chapel that housed the Holy Shroud in Turin, on April 11, 1997, can be considered iconic in this regard. For its restoration it was necessary to open the quarry near the place from which at the time the stone material with which the supporting structures had been made had been extracted (see reference, page 25) . Among other things, the individual blocks had been designed and installed with techniques of which the memory had been lost and which forced the restorers to a specific study.

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Vegetation Fire and Cultural Heritage Buildings: the Paul Getty Museum Case Study


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.

Flames endangers the I 405 by the Getty Center on Dec. 5th – Credits: Melissa Castro

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Cultural Heritage and Forest Fires

picture taken from Kosmas Dimitropoulos , Kovanc Köse, Nikos Grammalidis, and Enis Cetin paper
picture taken from Kosmas Dimitropoulos , Kovanc Köse, Nikos Grammalidis, and Enis Cetin paper

Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing is the art, science, and technology of obtaining reliable information from noncontact imaging and other sensor systems about the Earth and its environment, and other physical objects and processes through recording, measuring, analyzing and representation.

The International Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing, devoted to the development of international cooperation for the advancement of photogrammetry and remote sensing and their applications.

The society has published on its website among other conference proceedings the paper concerning “fire detection, and 3D fire propagation estimation for the protection of cultural heritage areas“.

In the abstract of the paper the Authors (Kosmas Dimitropoulos, Kovanc Köse, Nikos Grammalidis, and Enis Cetin) statesthat  beyond taking precautionary measures to avoid a forest fire, early warning and immediate response to a fire breakout are the only ways to avoid great losses and environmental and cultural heritage damages. To this end, this paper aims to present a computer vision based algorithm for wildfire detection and a 3D fire propagation estimation system. The main detection algorithm is composed of four sub-algorithms detecting:

  • (i) slow moving objects,
  • (ii) smoke-coloured regions,
  • (iii) rising regions,
  • (iv) shadow regions.

After detecting a wildfire, the main focus should be the estimation of its propagation direction and speed. If the model of the vegetation and other important parameters like wind speed, slope, aspect of the ground surface, etc. are known; the propagation of fire can be estimated. This propagation can then be visualized in any 3D-GIS environment that supports KML files.

In the conclusions, the Authors state that “Early warning and immediate response to a fire breakout are the only ways to avoid great losses and environmental and cultural heritage damages. Hence, the most important goals in fire surveillance are quick and reliable detection and localization of the fire. It is much easier to suppress a fire when the starting location is known, and while it is in its early stages. Information about the progress of fire is also highly valuable for managing the fire during all its stages. Based on this information, the fire fighting staff can be guided on target to block the fire before it reaches cultural heritage sites and to suppress it quickly by utilizing the required fire fighting equipment and vehicles.

Termites, Worms, Xylophagi and Fire Protections of Timber Artefacts in Museums

Climate change can be threaten Cultural Heritage in differeny ways. One of the concerns that must be taken into account is due to the growing aggression to wood structures and artefacts that Xilophagies (animal eating wood) pose to historical wood objects.

Surprisingly, fire protection systems can be useful to improve the environment of museums and galleries, like the active fire protection measures that replaces the air within a protected space with inert air that has reduced oxygen concentration.

The different concentrations of the components of air are slightly altered (typically, five percent of the oxygen content can be substituted by nitrogen) and are  safe to breathe for most people but prevent fire ignition in many materials.

Wood strcutures and artefacts can be severly damaged by insects and
Wooden structures and artifacts can be damaged by different types of insects. Surprisingly, fire protection provisions such as reducing oxygen concentration can minimize the risk posed by this type of aggression – (Photo by Michael D. Beckwith on Unsplash)


Even if in the specific case of the Florence gallery low oxygen concentration systems weren’t used, the typical problems of improving the environment are  similar to the ones faced by the Florence Galleria degli Uffizi, that has decontaminated by termites more than 400 masterpieces. The war on insects in one of the most famous museums in the world is in full swing. Xylophagous, a presence in typical environments with wooden structures such as museums or collections, will be eradicated by a new conservation work carried out by management and the staff of the Gallery. Will be cleared also the doors of the Gallery Room of the precious miniatures.

Uffizi Gallery is currently organizing the chemical treatment of all the doors of the Gallery and restoration of wooden decorations of the Hall of Miniatures. But the works of greatest importance and size are the altarpiece The Coronation of the Virgin by Lorenzo Monaco, Coronation of the Virgin by Botticelli and the triptych with the Adoration of the Shepherds by Hugo van der Goes. Such interventions are urgent and delicate and have to be carried out without moving the artifacts and without hindrance to the public, since two of these paintings are housed in a room which is relevant to Botticelli.

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Audioguide System for Rescue Operations in Museums

DSC_6990An innovative system developed under EU funds to help rescuers during emergencies in museums has been presented on September 15th, 2010, in Turin (Italy) in the Villa della Regina building, which is one of the royal buildings in Turin. Such system is based on the use during emergencies of the same devices used to guide people during their visits to museums and other cultural or historical buildings.

The European project MAP (mobile adaptive procedures), developed under successive EU funding, is aimed at the creation of a system that, among other functions, improves the operation of Fire Brigades in particular contexts, such as events relating to the safety of historical heritage. This topic was the subject of the conference held September 15 in Turin.

The conference was organized by the european-funded MAP project (coordinated by the Italian Ministry of Interior), Corpo Nazionale dei Vigili del Fuoco (National Fire Brigade) and the Italian Ministry for Cultural Heritage.

The central topic of the conference was the pilot project for a system intended to improve the management of emergencies by the Fire Brigade. This system, which allows the Fire Department to be informed and guided in real time during emergencies, is the first of this kind, and is based on a series of fact sheets, developed by the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage, which have been stored on the server of the local Command of the Fire Brigade in Turin. The contents of these cards are used by the Fire Department rescue personnel during the emergency and allows operators to know the priorities of the actions they are supposed to develop. They are informed using a code very similar to the “triage” conducted in an emergency department of a hospital . For the artifacts to be saved were defined key parameters such as response times for removal, weight and transportation techniques, as well as a classification of the level of historical or artistic interest.

Data transmitted through the MAP system allow the Fire Department to improve  rescue operations. In addition, thanks to devices scattered throughout the museum (the same devices used for audioguides during normal museum operations) and an innovative algorithm, data can be monitored constantly by the fire brigade control room.

Risk of closure for Museum due to Lack of Fire Protection

Maryport Maritime Museum is likely to close following the discovery of a fire risk. Allerdale council’s building control team says the fire escape route is unusable because of access restrictions to the rear of the building, and that a corridor would have to be built between the ground floor stairs and the front door.

The setback was announced less than two months before the voluntary Maritime Heritage Group was due to take over the museum from Maryport Festivals.

The risk was discovered during Allerdale council’s £22,000 renovation of the building in October. But the heritage group claims it is an excuse to force closure of the building, saying that the council, which is pulling funding from the museum to save money, was never really behind it.

Group spokesman Joe Kewin said: “How can Allerdale spend in excess of £20,000 to renovate the museum, continue to ask us to upgrade our business plan and then, at the 11th hour, tell us that the museum can’t open because of a fire risk?

“Surely this was considered by architects and surveyors when they spent a considerable amount of public money”

An Allerdale council spokesman said: “The improvement works needed to be carried out to keep the building in good order. The findings of the fire risk are not an excuse but a legal requirement.”

Article first published by at 11:26, Friday, 12 February 201 by

Last updated at 20:03, Thursday, 01 April 2010

Maryport Maritime Museum has been saved from closure.

Allerdale council, which owns the building, has struck a deal for the Maryport Maritime Heritage Group to take over the running of the museum from Maryport Festivals Ltd.

Joe Kewin, spokesman for the Maryport Maritime Heritage Group, said: “We are delighted that Allerdale Borough Council has offered us the Maritime Museum under licence with their full support. We are most grateful for the support shown by the people of Maryport.

“We now need to organise the necessary administrative details such as insurances and working procedures before we can formally run the museum, so we anticipate opening around the end of May.

“This means that the museum will temporarily close for two months but people can be safe in the knowledge that when it re-opens it will be in the hands of local enthusiasts who have the funds to ensure it gets off to a good start.”

The Maritime Heritage Group will take care of the museum and its collection on an initial three-month licence with the intention to renew it on a yearly basis.

First published at 11:30, Thursday, 01 April 2010
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Water leak from hydrant in historic library

1On December 23rd, 2009, in the historic library of “Accademia delle Scienze”, inside the Egyptian museum in Turin (Italy), the freezing of water made a valve break and caused a leak from the firefighting water delivery system. The leak has threatened the monumental “Salone dei mappamondi” (Globe room) , where are kept several 16th century globes, together with antique books. The room has fresco paintings from 17th century by Vincenzo Coronelli damaged by water. One of the globes has been interested directly by water.

The water leak has been seen during the 5.50 a.m. security control and has been stopped within one hour. Also firefighters has been called to help limiting water damages.

Even if not directly exposed to leak, important artifacts as the “Papyrus of the Kings” have been moved from a nearby room of the Turin  Egyptian museum, in order to avoid damages  due to the environmental moisture.

Malfunctioning Sprinkler Head in Archive Damages Historical Documents

A 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.


Water mist for Protection of Heritage – Cost C17 Final report

In the final Report of the Cost C17 Action different aspects of fire protection of Cultural Heritage buildings have been addressed, as the water mist for fire protection, which at the time was a relatively new technology with specific advantages to the built heritage.

The standard design and manufacturing processes do not currently address heritage applications, but performance-based codes are favourable for introducing new water mist systems. This report establishes the current level of experience, and presents basic information about water mist for the heritage community. The challenges, implications and perspectives of the technology are outlined in order to ensure the best protection of European heritage. A guide on how to accept or approve mist systems in heritage properties is given. Continue reading “Water mist for Protection of Heritage – Cost C17 Final report”