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Friday, May 22, 2009

Fire Engineers' Car Fire up in Flames: a case study

...and on a more personal note, a car fire. The car I was driving last night 'spontaneously ignited' (we think it was a short-circuit - even though that's the general flimsy excuse for when people don't know how fires started, in this case, it IS highly plausible!).

I started by seeing smoke coming off the bonnet. We opened the window and it smelt like smoke. We got out and through the side slit I could see flaming inside the bonnet (I think it started behind the left head light). Luckily we had lots of water in the boot. We started dowsing the bonnet in water but the handle for opening the bonnet was broken so I couldn't get it open.

After two 5 litre bottles of water and no apparent change to the fire, I stood back to call the fire brigade while Dr. Cowlard braved the fire and continued emptying bottle after bottle of water over the hood...nevertheless, he soon spotted flames 'licking' out of the left tyre cap and told me to "get away from the car, now!". Since we were far down a winding dirt track we had to run down and station ourselves at two main turn-offs along the route from the main road to show the fire trucks where to go...I stayed at the closer turn-off and soon saw Dr. Cowlard whiz past, hanging out of a fire truck window. Apparently, by the time the fire crew got to the car, the flames were ~1.5m high off the bonnet. Luckily the fire was extinguished within minutes and hadn't spread past the bonnet and left tyre, but they had to open the hood with a crow bar!

I've attached photos of the 'aftermath'. The poor car is a right-off...luckily the fire brigade arrived when they did as the fields around there are all dry undergrowth!!! We thought we might have to resign from our 'profession', had we started a bush fire!

Anyway - I copied you in on this as before I get rid of the car I was wondering if any more specific photos of it would be useful for anything? Perhaps for the 'fire investigation' course?

Cecilia Abecassis Empis
PhD Student

BRE Centre for Fire Safety Engineering

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Fire is a serious natural disaster but not worth much attention??

A survey commissioned by the Society for Fire Protection Engineers and conducted in Feb 2009 reveals that Americans ranked building safety, comfort and amenities higher than fire safety. Only environmental friendliness was ranked below fire.

The survey reveals that 45% believe fire is the natural disasters that will most likely cause harm to them or their family. Included in this list were lighting strikes (18%), hurricanes (15%), earthquakes (12%) and floods (10%).

58% worry about the dangers of fire less than once a year. At the same time, wealthy Americans think about the risk of fire less frequently than those with lower incomes.

More information at "Society of Fire Protection Engineers Release Results of Public Opinion Poll".

Monday, May 11, 2009

Congratulations to Dr Fletcher for his PhD thesis defense

Ian Fletcher successfully defended his PhD thesis on the 11th of May 2009.

The external examiner was Prof. Ali Nadjai from University of Ulster and the internal was Prof Asif Usmani. The PhD supervisor of Ian is Dr Stephen Welch.

The thesis title is "Tall concrete buildings subjected to vertically moving fires - a case study approach". Ian has published five papers; one review on the behaviour of concrete structures in fire), three papers on the 2005 Windsor Tower fire (2006 SiF, 2006 Fire Safety in Tall Buildings and 2007 Fire Computer Modelling) and a chapter in the book The Dalmarnock Fire Tests: Experiments and Modelling.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Asteroids, Oxygen, Mass Extinctions and Fires

Dr Claire Belcher, Marie Curie Research Fellow at the Plant Palaeoecology and Palaeobiology Group in University College Dublin, is spending two weeks with the fire group to collaborate on the study of the smouldering and flaming behaviour of biomass under low oxygen atmospheres.

Claire’s research interests include mass extinction events, fire ecology and ancient atmospheres with particular interest in using wildfire as a proxy for atmospheric oxygen.

She will give the seminar "Asteroids, Oxygen, Mass Extinctions and Fires" on Tuesday 12 May at 4 pm in the Alexander Graham Bell Bldg. Seminar room (3rd floor).


Fire has been a major influence on Earth’s systems for ~380 million years. Throughout this long history fire has played the role of cause, consequence and catalyst to the development of terrestrial life on Earth. The study of palaeofire can provide a powerful tool to understanding past environmental change. Claire has been working on palaeofire since 2001 where her work has used palaeofire to address a broad diversity of questions. Her talk promises to show how fossil fire can be used to inform us about:

- Ancient fire activity
- Earth’s mass extinction events
- Ancient atmospheric pollutants
- Levels of thermal radiation delivered by asteroid impacts
- Palaeoatmospheric oxygen levels
- Ancient ecosystems responses to global warming

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Short Review of 2nd International Tunnel Safety Forum, Lyon, April 2009

The 2nd International Tunnel Safety Forum for Road and Rail was held in Lyon, France on the 2oth and 21st April 2009. The conference was organised and sponsored by Tunnel Management International.

This conference marked (almost) the tenth anniversary of my first tunnel safety conference, which was the 1st Int Tunnel Fires Conference in May 1999, also held in Lyon and also organised by TMI. That conference fell two months after the fire in the Mont Blanc tunnel and was attended by about 300 delegates. This year's conference was attended by about 110 delegates.

The conference dealt with many topics relating to tunnel safety, split into the following themed sessions: "Standards", "Materials", "CFD", "Smoke & Modelling", "Operations", "Safety", "Fire", "Detection", "Evacuation" and "Extinguishing".

Presentations came from representatives from five continents (none from Africa) and highlighted differences between approaches to safety in different countries.

While the presentations returned to several of the well discussed topics in the field, such as "Critical Ventilation Velocity" - which has been discussed at every tunnel conference I've been at in the past decade - there were some new discussions. The two new modelling topics which were highlights of the conference were "Multi-Scale Modelling" (mentioned in three presentations) and CFD modelling of airflow which included a moving train.

Two of the most interesting presentations, neither of which is in the proceedings, were presented by Bob Allen from the Sydney Harbour Tunnel company. The first discussed fire tests using extraction and suppression systems in the tunnel (efficiency of smoke extraction is highly dependent on position of the fire relative to the extraction points), while the second presented the "Water Screen" stop signs (see picture) which are routinely used to tell overheight vehicles not to enter the tunnel, and may be used to close the tunnel in an emergency.

The two biggest debates amongst the delegates concerned the issue of 'design fires' for ventilation systems and the utility (or otherwise) of smoke exhaust systems. As is often the case at such conferences, the greatest number of papers were devoted to discussing ventilation strategies and designs for various tunnel projects.

I was also expecting a debate on the issue of sprinklers or water mist systems, yet this did not really come to the fore. The session on suppression came at the end of the conference, and many of the delegates were not keen for a big debate at the end.

I came away from the conference with the feeling that there is still plenty more work to be done, but also that we are at a bit of a turning point in tunnel safety practice. We may well have reached the point of highest complexity in tunnel safety systems. On the basis of what I heard at this conference, it wouldn't surprise me if we see a return to simpler safety systems over the next few years - less complex ventilation systems, conventional sprinklers rather than water mists, and systems designed for smaller 'design fires'. but only time will tell.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Visit by Dr John Watts and seminar on Fire Risk Analysis

Dr John Watts, Director of the Fire Safety Institute (USA) and Adjunct Professor of Mechanical and Mechatronics Engineering at the University of Waterloo (Canada), will give the seminar "Some Aspects of Fire Risk Analysis" on Friday 8 May in the Alexander Graham Bell Bldg. Seminar room.

Dr Watts is a graduate from the University of Maryland and the University of Massachusetts. He has been employed by the fire insurance industry and as a fire fighter, Assistant Professor of Fire Protection Engineering at the University of Maryland (USA) and fire investigator. He spent a sabbatical year in 1979-1980 here at the Fire Safety Engineering group at the University of Edinburgh. He also serves as Editor-in-Chief of the journal Fire Technology and co-editor of the SFPE Handbook of Fire Protection Engineering.

Some Aspects of Fire Risk Analysis

by Dr Jack Watts

What is fire risk analysis? This presentation will identify concepts of risk analysis with specific application to fire safety engineering. While FSE can be considered an adolescent engineering discipline, there is a hundred year history of fire risk assessment. We will look at some of today’s fire risk models that take many forms ranging from simplistic utilitarian to computationally complex. An example of mathematical modeling of fire risk is presented that integrates stochastic elements into the currently popular engineering approach of performance-based fire safety evaluation. Broad conclusions are drawn that relate to a spectrum of engineering disciplines.