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An Insight into Warehouse Fires

Technical Report
Introduction 3

The Extent of the Problem 4

Global Property & Casualty
Observations on Fire Prevention 5

Observations on Fire Control 8

Conclusion 13

References 14

Are you
storing up problems?

Cover Photo of Enchede fireworks factory explosion, 13 May 2000, courtesy of The German Press Agency.
Willis Warehouse Fires 2

The first version of this technical report was published in1998 to highlight to our clients the disturbing trend
of large warehouse losses. This third version of the report follows the recent fire in the Dutch border town of
Enschede that graphically demonstrated the possible catastrophic and tragic results of warehouse losses.
This high profile loss adds another statistc to the warehousing sector’s loss record that as an illustration
continues to represent 25 per cent of the total claims value handled by Global Property and Casualty (GPC).
This problem is not restricted to our client base and a wider review of the warehouse sector’s loss record
shows large fire incidents to be a widespread problem. Certainly our experience shows that this trend appears
to continue unabated which is why we again wish to stress the many lessons apparently going unheeded
from previous incidents.

This review is intended to assist those responsible for the

protection of warehouses to identify the variety of problems that
can arise and learn from the many incidents that have occurred.
The review is also intended to raise the awareness of
organisations to the potential damage that can result from major
warehouse incidents. Property damage is an obvious result of
large fire losses but the associated disruption to operations and
business interruption potential may not be fully appreciated.
Furthermore, there is likely to be no hiding place from adverse
press comment following a warehouse fire which by their nature
are spectacular, and hence newsworthy events. Such press
coverage often leads to damaged corporate reputation and
a negative effect on client confidence which add to the
unaccounted losses an organisation may suffer following
a storage fire.
Our review of past incidents has shown that major fire
losses are not typically caused by a single incident. More
often major fires are a result of a string of unforeseen events
and circumstances leading up to ignition and during
subsequent attempts to control the fire. To aid in under-
standing these events we have reviewed the leading
causation factors which typify large fire losses and identified
common characteristics which contribute to their scale.
These lessons have been presented from a fire prevention
(prior to ignition) and fire control (post-ignition) strategy
viewpoint. Our advice is that both aspects need to be
considered in any all-encompassing warehouse
protection strategy.
The risk of large warehouse fires always exists in any storage
facility and we aim to raise awareness to this risk. We have
therefore presented a Serious Storage Fire risk-ranking tool which
can be used to aid in qualifying the degree of risk at your
particular storage operations. This questionnaire-based tool
combines the likelihood and possible consequence factors of a
large fire into an overall risk ranking. When plotted on a risk map,
the relative risk of a major fire incident can be readily identified
to enable resources to be directed to priority areas.

Willis Warehouse Fires 3

The Extent of the Problem

An indication of the widespread nature of the warehouse fire Comparison of serious storage fires with all serious fires (1993-1997)
problem can be seen from a review of the loss statistics of Loss value of storage fires as a Number of storage area fires as
percentage of all serious losses a percentage of all serious fires
various national fire prevention organisations, insurance 40 %
companies and our own database. The number of fires 35
originating in storage facilities, which includes both
warehouses and storage areas associated with
manufacturing plants, averages around 15 per cent of
the total number of industrial fire incidents reported. 20

However, these incidents on average represent a 15

disproportionate 23 per cent of the total property damage 10
reported. These ratios are common across many statistical 5
studies and have remained relatively constant over the past 0
15 years. These findings raise concerns over the size and 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997
continuing frequency of fires in storage facilities Source: (1) Fire Prevention Association (UK)
and the failure of the industry to improve this record.
A common misconception is that a warehouse full of
non-combustible products does not pose a fire hazard.
However, packaging materials commonly found in use today
– plastic wrapping, cardboard boxes, wooden crates, plastic
The threat of fire
never be
or wooden pallets – all contribute to the spread of fire.
Indeed, fires involving low risk materials such as metal parts
packed in cardboard will generate ceiling air temperatures

in excess of 650°C. Steel structures begin to lose strength at
approximately 600°C leading to the possible collapse of
warehouse buildings within ten minutes of a fire taking hold. The
threat of fire should therefore never be underestimated for any
storage facility. for any storage facility
A review of the causes of storage area fires reveals that arson
incidents are the primary cause with significant contributions
also made by open flame, electrical equipment and external/
natural exposures.

Major causes of storage property fires (1993 - 1997)

11% Exposures (to hostile fire)

Natural Causes
Open Flame 17%
Heating Equipment
3% Smoking

12% Other Equipment

Electrical 10%
9% Other

Source: (2) National Fire Prevention Association (USA)

Willis Warehouse Fires 4

Observations on Fire Prevention

The leading causes of warehouse fires indicate the areas where Open Flames and Hot Surfaces
the greatest benefit can be gained from fire prevention efforts. In These common ignition sources are not normally
this section, we review each of these ‘likelihood’ factors that associated with storage areas until further thought is
influence the possibility of a fire. given to their possible existence – gas fired shrink- wrap
equipment, permanent and temporary heaters, steam
Arson pipes, cutting and welding operations, smoking, etc.
The deliberate starting of fires continues to be one of the All open flames and hot surfaces must be considered
leading causes of fires in storage areas with insurers paying as possible ignition sources and controlled accordingly.
over £1 million per day in arson claims in the United Kingdom
alone. Employees or outsiders can initiate such acts with n Shrink-wrap
motives ranging from revenge or excitement to covering This common packaging method is performed by four
criminal activities. With such a widespread risk it has proven main types of equipment including batch ovens; tunnel
difficult to protect storage facilities against a determined ovens, in which the product is moved on conveyors;
arsonist but with careful consideration and understanding pillar units in which heat guns are either lowered onto
of the problem the risk can be minimised. or rotated around the pallet; and portable equipment.
Shrink-wrap equipment can be either electrically
heated or gas fired and is generally designed to operate
in the region of 250°C. However, the temperature at the

should outlet nozzle of some hot-air guns may reach 900°C.

Shrink-wrap equipment has caused many incidents
due to the inappropriate positioning of the equipment,
its use on unsuitable goods e.g. flammable materials,

the malfunction or maloperation of the equipment and
the improper use of portable equipment.
Shrink-wrap equipment should preferably be
located in segregated and dedicated areas with superior
housekeeping standards. Fixed equipment should
The prevention of arson must be multi-faceted and always be equipped with appropriate safety trips e.g. thermal
designed to stay one step ahead of the arsonist. Basic security cut-out and loss of movement devices, to prevent the
measures will help to protect a facility and should encompass overheating of product upon a malfunction. Further-
secure perimeter fencing, external lighting and regular, but more, strict guidance and training in the use of portable
variable patrols of the facility by reputable security personnel. shrink-wrap equipment should be provided.
Additional precautions to provide an extra level of protection Extreme care should always be taken with shrink-
include intruder detection, CCTV monitoring, access control, wrap operations and consideration given to introducing
identification badges, and random inventory and security safer alternatives, such as stretch-wrapping.

UK, 1999 Belgium, 1996

A suspected arson fire originated at a publicly accessible A 10,000m2 third-party warehouse storing plastic pellets
wall of this 19,000m2 domestic appliance warehouse which was completely destroyed following a fire believed to have
led to the complete destruction of the building and contents. originated from a pallet of product that had been
The loss of the company’s main UK distribution facility led to recently manually shrink-wrapped. Although the cause
several large clients threatening to de-list the company could not be categorically determined, all open flame
resulting in possible long-term loss of market. Extreme efforts shrink-wrap equipment has now been banned
were required to successfully mitigate the loss of custom. throughout the company.

Willis Warehouse Fires 5

Observations on Fire Prevention - continued

n Cutting and welding Electrical Equipment

This type of operation is usually only performed The ignition risk from electrical equipment can be
occasionally or by contractors who may not be fully minimised by ensuring it is maintained through a
aware of existing fire hazards. An open flame permit formalised maintenance programme performed by
system and procedure will help to ensure the worker qualified staff. Maintenance should be supplemented
must first formally seek approval before any work is by regular inspections (a combination of visual and
conducted. In this way a trained employee will have thermographic inspections is essential) and an
the opportunity to highlight any safety precautions effective work order system to ensure problems are
required and supervise the work. Such controls are rectified promptly.
essential for facility management to remain in Of particular note is the number of large warehouse
control of these transient ignition hazards. fires that have been reportedly caused by lighting
equipment failures. Light fixtures will invariably
n Smoking be positioned directly above storage, presenting an ever-
Unauthorised smoking must be controlled through a present ignition source if the fixture’s mode of failure can
well defined and strictly enforced policy. To be effective release hot material. This risk is common to every storage
the policy should be formalised to define the exact area and a review of light fittings and maintenance should
extent of safe smoking areas and outline the disciplinary be seen as an important aspect of fire prevention.
procedures if personnel or contractors are found
disobeying the policy. Key exposure areas to be aware of include:

n Heaters and hot surfaces n High intensity discharge (HID) lamps

Storage should be maintained at a safe distance from As lamp technology has improved, pressures inside HID
these common ignition sources preferably by careful lamps have reached 4.8 bar with temperatures in excess of
positioning or by providing heat barriers and shields. 1000°C. Violent failures of HID lamps can discharge large
Special attention should be given to portable heaters to and hot fragments onto vulnerable storage and such lamps
control their positioning and ensure they are maintained have been identified as the likely cause of ignition in several
in a safe working condition. recent fires.
Such fixtures should be reviewed to ensure integral
barriers are provided to prevent the discharge of hot
fragments. Otherwise, HID bulbs should be specifically
designed for use without barriers.

Bradford, UK 1992(3)

A fire started in a raw material warehouse when

drums of azodiisobutyronitrile (AZDN) ruptured
due to their proximity to a hot steam condensate
pipe. The material reacted with adjacent incompatible
materials leading to a complete loss of the
warehouse and extensive contamination of local
rivers. As a result of the lessons learnt the rebuilt
facility was protected by sprinkler systems with fire
wall segregation and a firewater catchment system.

Willis Warehouse Fires 6

Observations on Fire Prevention - continued

n Fluorescent lamps
The maximum surface temperature of typical Storage can be exposed to many ignition sources either
fluorescent lamp components is 90°C. If positioned close from internal or external sources:
to storage, or if dust is allowed to collect on the
components, a fire can result. Furthermore, if the units n Internal exposures
are used beyond their expected service life, electrical It is preferrable to provide dedicated storage
failures can cause arcing and overheating. areas, however this may not always be possible.
Therefore, non-segregated manufacturing or other
activities located alongside storage areas may present
sources of ignition. A common approach to prevent
Wilton, UK 1995(3) cross exposure is to install fire barriers or walls to
A plastics warehouse was completely lost to fire achieve adequate segregation.
resulting in a US$14 million stock loss. The probable
cause was concluded to be the failure of a fluorescent light n Natural exposures
fitting which resulted in molten acrylic from the light Lightning is the most common natural ignition source.
cover dripping onto storage. Both the design and Protection is achieved via lightning conductors and
maintenance of the lighting systems were considered to grounding systems installed in accordance with
be at fault. Subsequently the light design was reviewed national codes and standards.
and the previous ‘breakdown’ approach to light fitting
maintenance was replaced by a formal inspection and n External exposures
maintenance programme. Neighbouring activities, buildings and vegetation are
generally beyond the control of facility management
but may present a higher risk of ignition than well
controlled on-site hazards. Protection strategies and
Accepted good practice for the maintenance emergency plans need to consider these off-site issues.
of continuously operating electric discharge lighting systems
is to switch the lamps off for 15 minutes each week. Lamps
approaching the end of their useful life will then fail to restart India, 1994(4)
and can be replaced before they have the opportunity to Sparks from a fireworks display during a festival
fail in service. triggered an explosion and fire in a nearby fireworks
warehouse. 22 people died in the incident.

Willis Warehouse Fires 7

Observations on Fire Control

A recent study(5) reported that on average there are between These factors combine to highlight the need to provide
one and five fire incidents annually per storage premises, the some form of continuous fire detection together with
majority of which are controlled by manual intervention. emergency notification procedures for storage areas.
However, a proportion of these fires grow beyond this stage Fires can be detected in their incipient stage by either
turning into ‘reportable’ fire incidents (1 in 250 incidents) automatic fire detection systems, watchman patrols and/
requiring fire brigade intervention with a further 1 in 750 or continuous occupation of the area. A suitable level of
incidents developing into ‘serious’ fires resulting in roof round-the-clock fire surveillance should be considered for all
collapse. A review of these serious incidents shows a number storage facilities and procedures developed to ensure alarms
of common themes which alone, or in combination, result in are quickly relayed to the relevant fire response centre.
the uncontrolled escalation of a fire into a serious incident:
Fire Spread
– delayed detection or notification of fire
Fire spread through storage areas is dependent upon the
– the rapid spread of fire beyond the original source due to fire characteristics of the product involved, storage
the involvement of aerosols, flammable products, arrangements and the materials of construction of the
combustible construction, incompatibility of stored building itself. If not correctly accounted for, the rapid
products or poor housekeeping spread of fire can lead to a fire growing beyond the
capabilities of both automatic fire protection systems and
– large open storage areas without fire walls or breaks
the manual fire-fighting response resulting in the
– lack or failure of automatic sprinkler systems to effectively complete loss of large storage buildings. The following
control the fire aspects have repeatedly proved to increase the speed
– the generation of large quantities of smoke of fire spread:

– environmental effects n Aerosols and flammable liquids

– mixed storage in third-party warehousing. Special attention must be given to these products
since they can accelerate fire spread due to the
In this section, we review each of these factors to aid our ‘missile’ effect produced by exploding aerosols and
understanding of how to best limit the size of a fire incident. the flowing properties of flammable liquids.
Specifically designed automatic protection systems
Fire Detection
and/or adequate segregation are considered the only
Storage areas are heavily dependent on manual fire-fighting
effective means of fire control for such high hazard
resources to limit the spread of fire and accomplish final
storage. Specific fire protection guidance is available
extinguishment. During the critical early stages of a fire, any
in the National Fire Codes© published by the
delay in notification of the incident will severely hinder the
National Fire Prevention Association (USA) and other
effectiveness of the responding fire brigade and result in a
relevant national fire codes.
significant increase in the fire’s impact. It is therefore
important that a fire is detected early and the alarm is swiftly
notified through to fire-fighters.
Ohio, USA 1987(7)
Average Loss Per Serious Incident
Fire Brigade Response (1985 - 1994 gross loss*) An accidental spill of solvent was ignited by a fork lift
Effective US$ 3,453,000 truck in a 17,000 m2 automotive paint distribution
Ineffective US$ 5,930,700
centre. Although the facility was fully sprinklered, the
Source: (6) Allendale *Non-sprinklered warehouses. Values indexed to 2000.
fire spread so rapidly it overwhelmed both the sprinkler
system and the fire brigade who arrived within six
A further adverse aspect of storage area fires is that over minutes of the first alarm. The initial 40 litre spill fire
60 per cent of fires occur between the hours of 18.00 and spread through the entire 5,600,000 litre stock of
06.00(1,5). Premises are generally lightly staffed or unoccupied paints and solvents within 28 minutes!
during these times, leading to the increased probability that
a fire will grow undetected.

Willis Warehouse Fires 8

Observations on Fire Control - continued

n Combustible construction
Building materials can contribute to the rapid spread
of fire either alone or in combination with combustible
storage. Construction features to be aware of include:

– combustible insulation panels, particularly those

containing foam plastic as commonly found in
cold stores

– combustible water-proofing and insulation layers

on steel-deck roofing panels

– spray-on internal insulation materials

– combustible structural elements

e.g. wood plank roofing or joists.

n Incompatible and hazardous storage Construction features should also be included in

Many chemical products should never be stored together any fire control strategy review and mitigated by either
due to their particular properties e.g. oxidising and specifying low or non-combustible construction
reducing agents, water reactive chemicals in sprinklered components or installing control features such as
areas, or self-igniting substances alongside general firewalls, fireproofing barriers or automatic fire
storage. Trained personnel should review and continually protection systems.
monitor storage to ensure all hazardous materials and n Housekeeping
storage incompatibilities are identified. This awareness of Build-up of combustible waste, storage between racks
hazards will aid in the development of a suitable storage and uncontrolled storage located adjacent to external
and segregation policy, which if policed properly will walls can all aid the spread of fire. Particular care should
minimise the chance of ignition and reduce the risk of be taken during transient conditions such as seasonal
rapid fire spread. over-stocking when accepted standards are allowed
Guidance on the fire hazards and fire separation to slip. It should be recognised that the storage area
for packaged materials is given in Health and Safety and hence downstream supply chain is at its most
Executive and Comité Européen des Assurances vulnerable during these times. Good standards
guidelines (see Further Reading). of housekeeping should therefore be maintained
at all times.

Renfrew, UK 1977(8) Enschede, The Netherlands 2000(10)

A transit warehouse stored sodium chlorate in drums A fire in this fireworks warehouse detonated an
alongside sacks of milk powder. A fire started in waste estimated 100 tonnes of explosives leading to 18
packaging outside the warehouse and spread through deaths, 946 injuries and the devastation of the
the exterior wall of the building. Sodium chlorate is a surrounding residential quarter. The cause of the
strong oxidising agent and when mixed with the initiating fire is still under investigation but arson and/or
carbon-based milk powder created a severe fire and improper storage practices are considered the leading
explosion destroying the entire warehouse. Personnel potential causes. However, what can be learnt from this
were unaware of the consequences of mixing these incident is that the consequences of a fire were not fully
two seemingly low hazard materials. appreciated before the event leading to inappropriate
positioning of the facility (see front cover).

Willis Warehouse Fires 9

Observations on Fire Control – continued

Fire Walls Automatic Sprinkler Protection

Fire walls are an important passive protection feature Sprinkler systems have a proven record in reducing the
which, if properly designed and used, can limit the spread financial impact of fire incidents. In addition, the action of
of fire through large storage areas. Common examples of such systems has several spin-off benefits including improved
the use of fire walls include: life-safety survival rates, reducing the scale of a fire and limiting
firewater run-off and environmental effects. Automatic
n to segregate storage areas from manufacturing
protection should therefore always be considered as the
and ancillary activities
preferred fire control strategy.
n to separate high hazard material from general storage
Average Gross Loss Per Serious Incident
n to restrict the amount of storage in any single Warehouse Loss Experience (1985-1994 gross loss*)
fire area. With sprinklers US$ 589,900
Without sprinklers US$ 4,534,400

Source: (6) Allendale *Values indexed to 2000

Extreme care must be taken in the design and maintenance
of fire walls to ensure they do not become prematurely
breached during a fire. Common failures have included One important lesson to take from previous storage fires
inadequate design allowing fire to pass around or over the is that a sprinklered warehouse may not necessarily be a
barrier, failure of fire doors and shutters to operate protected warehouse. A sprinkler system is designed to protect
automatically and unprotected openings allowing fire and materials with specific fire characteristics in defined storage
smoke to pass unhindered. Fire walls should therefore be arrangements. If the fire characteristics of the storage increases
carefully reviewed to ensure they continue to provide an e.g. by the introduction of flammable liquids, increased plastic
effective fire stop. content or increased storage height, the sprinkler system can
become inadequate and may not be capable of controlling a
developing fire. Studies(5) show seven per cent of fires in
protected storage areas are not controlled by sprinkler
systems due to inadequate design.
Any changes to arrangement and/or type of materials
stored may affect protection requirements. It is therefore
critical that storage is regularly monitored and a formal
change procedure considers the implications to protection
systems and strategy prior to any change in storage type or
arrangement. Notification of such changes should always be
given to the responding fire brigades to ensure they are
properly prepared.

Belgium, 1996 Cologne, Germany 1977(7)

A fire in an automotive spares warehouse was believed to
This warehouse was divided into three compartments
have been started by careless smoking. Although the
by concrete fire walls as legally requested. A fire spread building was sprinkler protected the fire overwhelmed the
through the fire wall due to intensive heat radiation system resulting in a complete loss of the facility. The
leading to a complete loss of the building. Similar storage increasing content of plastics in automobiles was
buildings separated by 30m of open space went recognised as the root cause of the incident. The design of
undamaged due to the actions of the local fire brigade. the original 1960’s protection system had not increased in
This highlights that adequate spacing can provide the line with the increased fire load of the plastic components
most reliable form of fire segregation. stored, resulting in its failure to control the developing fire.

Willis Warehouse Fires 10

Observations on Fire Control – continued

Smoke Generation
Manual fire fighting inside large open warehouses is
extremely difficult and dangerous, and comes with
no guarantee of success. Heat and smoke generation,
which is a consequence of any fire, greatly hinders
fire fighters and can obscure the seat of a fire. In addition,
the smoke can spread far beyond the seat of the fire causing
widespread damage to perishable or sensitive products.
It is therefore critical to consider how smoke generated
by a fire will behave and how its effects can be minimised.
In particular, climate controlled storage areas require
special consideration as the air recirculation systems can
rapidly spread smoke to unaffected areas.
Smoke control strategies can mitigate these problems
using a number of features:

n ventilation systems arranged to shut down or switch from Environmental Effects

circulation to extraction mode upon early Smoke is an obvious and highly visible environmental
smoke detection impact that storage fires create. Along with smoke, the
plume arising from a fire will contain unburned gases and
n heat and smoke vents installed at roof level to evacuate noxious materials that will eventually be deposited down-
products of combustion wind. Fortunately, experience has shown that it is rare for
hazardous concentrations to occur at ground level but
n smoke detection systems arranged to activate fire doors residue drop-out may result in damage to a wide
during the early stages of a fire, hence reducing the spread surrounding area.
of smoke. Of more concern are several recent cases that have
highlighted the need to consider the environmental effects
These features have the dual benefit of reducing of firewater run-off. Environmentally sensitive products can
smoke damage to stored product and aiding the be washed into local watercourses and aquifers following
responding fire brigade by improving visibility. the application of large quantities of firewater during fire
fighting operations. The effect can be severe biological
damage over a wide area.

USA, 1997 Basle, Switzerland 1986(9)

A fire in a cold storage warehouse supposedly originated from
the failure of a HID light fitting. All aspects of the control of the
Fire in a non-sprinklered mixed chemical warehouse
fire worked to plan with the sprinkler system and fire brigade
created around 7,500 m3 of firewater run-off containing
restricting the fire damage to around six per cent of the total
facility floor area. However, the relatively slow operation of fire 30 tonnes of chemicals, which polluted over 250 km of
the River Rhine. The severe ecological damage created a
doors, due to fusible link activation, and the continued operation
huge public relations backlash and caused the company
of the air handlers, which was intended to restrict temperature
rises, resulted in over 90 per cent of stock in the warehouse to discontinue sales of a range of products involved.
becoming smoke damaged and unsalvageable.

Willis Warehouse Fires 11

Observations on Fire Control – continued

Contaminated firewater run-off can be minimised by the use of

automatic sprinklers since they only apply water to the fire area
and are more effective at controlling a fire during
its early stages, thereby reducing water usage. However,
in all cases a firewater run-off handling strategy should be
considered especially if environmentally sensitive products
can become involved.

Features of a strategy may typically include:

n firewater catchment system with sufficient capacity to retain

expected run-off

n sealing of building and/or site drains to prevent release of


n close co-operation with local environmental authorities to

pre-plan a damage limitation response.

A further environmental issue arising from major fires can

be the disposal of fire damaged product. Depending on the
product and degree of contamination, local regulators can
classify fire damaged goods as hazardous material requiring
costly disposal. In one recent case the cost of disposal of the
damaged product equalled the cost to rebuild the
completely gutted warehouse.

Third-Party Warehousing
Off-site and third-party warehousing is commonly used to
accommodate spillover storage and for distribution
purposes. Although these facilities offer operational
flexibility, this is often at the cost of accepting lower fire
prevention and control standards. Furthermore, products
may be stored adjacent to other client’s higher hazard or
non-compatible products significantly increasing exposure to
a serious fire, which is often not evaluated.
Standards of both fire prevention and control should be
specified in all third-party warehousing contracts. Regular
audits should also be undertaken to ensure standards are
maintained. To gain an insight into whether third-party
warehousing is providing acceptable standards, compare
the results of the enclosed risk-ranking questionnaire from
in-house warehouses with those from contracted facilities.

Willis Warehouse Fires 12


In today’s economy an effective product distribution system

is seen as an essential pre-requisite to being a successful
business partner. Indeed, more and more management
time is focused on improving delivery performance and
shifting storage responsibilities further up the supply chain.
This has resulted in the logistics interface between
companies becoming a high profile issue upon which
continued business relationships depend.
At the heart of any product distribution system is the
warehouse, whose role in business continuity has been
generally under-valued in the past. This has resulted in
risk management efforts and fire protection investment
being diverted to more traditionally recognised business
critical areas such as manufacturing. This lack of attention
is in sharp contrast to the criticality of warehouses and
which we suggest has led to the unabated trend in
warehouse fires.
Our clear message to those responsible for warehouses
is to give careful consideration to the possible
consequences of a major fire. Loss history has shown that
serious fires will occur in dedicated warehouses,
manufacturing storage areas and third-party warehouses
whatever the product stored and therefore they should
never be discounted. There are a number of well known
contributory factors which have directly led to serious fires
in storage areas and continue to repeat themselves.
Lessons in fire prevention and control are therefore here for
All our
all to note and if included within an all-encompassing
protection strategy can significantly reduce the risk and size
of major fire incidents.
The objective of this Technical Report is to assist the risk

comes through
management community to further raise awareness of the
wide range of exposures linked to warehousing. In order to
assist in this process, we have designed a Risk-Ranking Tool

the correcting
for Serious Storage Fires which can be found at the back
of this report.

of our mistakes
Karl Popper

Willis Warehouse Fires 13


1. Serious Storage Area Fires. Further Reading

Fire Prevention Association, No. 318, March 1999.
Chemical Warehousing, the Storage
2. The U.S. Fire Problem Overview Report. Leading Causes of Packaged Dangerous Substances.
And Other Patterns And Trends - Storage Properties Health and Safety Executive, HMSO, 1998.
Excluding Dwelling Garages.
Fire Analysis and Research Division, National Fire Recommendations for the Fire Protection
Protection Association, April 2000. of Stores Containing Hazardous Substances.
Comité Européen des Assurances.
3. Loss Prevention Bulletin, Issue 132. English version published by
Institution of Chemical Engineers, December 1996. The Loss Prevention Council, 1997.

4. Hazardous Cargo Bulletin Incident Log. Loss Prevention Council Recommendations

July, 1994. for Warehouse and Other Storage Places.
The Loss Prevention Council, March 1989.
5. The Probability of Fires in Warehouses
and Storage Premises. The Control of Fire-water Run-off from
Hymes and Flynn, 1992. CIMAH Sites to Prevent Environmental Damage.
Health and Safety Executive, HMSO, 1995.
6. Unprotected Warehouses, Fire and Water.
Allendale, 1997.

7. Before the Fire.

Fire Prevention Strategies for Storage Occupancies.
National Fire Prevention Association, 1988.

8. The Fire and Explosion at Container Depot,

Renfrew 4 January 1977. HSE Report, HMSO, 1979.

9. Loss Prevention Bulletin, Issue 075.

Institution of Chemical Engineers, June 1987.

10. Exposure, Property and Engineering.

GE Frankona Re, September 2000.
For further information, please contact:
Kevin Snowdon

Global Property & Casualty
One Camomile Street
London EC3A 7LA
Telephone +44 (0) 20 7488 8111
Fax +44 (0)20 7975 2402
Website: www.willis.com

Photographs courtesy of West Yorkshire Fire Service,

FirePix International and German Press Agency.
Risk-Ranking Tool
for Serious Storage Fires

The following questionnaire can be used to quickly measure the relative risk of serious
fires in your storage facilities. The first step is to complete the questionnaire and sum the
likelihood and consequence scores. The scores can then be used to position the overall serious
fire risk rating of a particular facility onto the risk map shown at the end. From their positions
on the risk map, different facilities can be compared and areas where improvements are
most needed can be identified.

Likelihood Factors - Fire Prevention Aspects Yes No

1. Perimeter fence provided with locked gates during unoccupied times and illuminated? 0 +1
2. Intruder alarm system installed and alarms continually monitored? 0 +1
3. Continuous security guard presence and patrols? 0 +1
4. Access control system installed? 0 +1
5. Random inventory and security checks performed? 0 +1

Open Flame Controls

6. Shrink-wrap equipment used in storage area? +1 0
7. Shrink-wrap equipment protected by safety trip devices? 0 +1
8. Hot work permit and procedures in place? 0 +1
9. Defined smoking policy with clear signage and regularly policed? 0 +1
10. Heaters and hot surfaces highlighted and segregated from storage? 0 +1

Electrical Equipment
11. Formalised maintenance programme practised on electrical equipment? 0 +1
12. Programme includes thermographic and visual equipment inspections? 0 +1
13. Qualified personnel used for maintenance and modifications to electrical system? 0 +1
14. Light fittings designed to prevent hot fragments falling onto storage? 0 +1
15. Lights maintained and inspected within regular maintenance programme? 0 +1

16. Storage areas segregated from manufacturing or other activities by detachment or fire walls? 0 +1
17. Severe external exposures e.g. high hazard facilities adjoin storage building with high risk of fire spread? (If YES go to 20) +3 0
18. Moderate external exposure: e.g. moderate-risk facilities nearby with adequate separation to hinder fire spread? (If YES go to 20) +2 0
19. Low external exposure: e.g. well detached facilities, light surrounding vegetation and low build-up of combustible waste? +1 0
20. Product stored in multi-tenant warehouse without product separation? +1 0

Total Likelihood Score (20 maximum)

Consequence Factors - Fire Control Features Yes No

Incompatible Materials
21. Well defined hazardous material identification and segregation policy? 0 +1

Fire Spread
22. High fire loading e.g. products containing or packaged with an appreciable quantity of plastics, rubber or flammable liquids? (If YES go to 25) +3 0
23. Medium fire load e.g. wood, paper or natural fibre cloth with limited plastic content? (If YES go to 25) +2 0
24. Low fire load e.g. non-combustible materials in paper, cardboard or wood packaging materials? +1 0
25. Aerosols and/or flammable liquids are stored alongside general storage? +1 0
26. The storage building contains extensive use of combustible construction materials, e.g. combustible insulation or roofing? +1 0
27. The storage area is divided into maximum 4,000 m2 areas by effective firewalls or detached by minimum 30m open spaces? 0 +1

Fire Detection
28. Storage areas are continuously manned? 0 +1
29. Fire watch/security patrols are made through internal areas on a minimum two hourly frequency? 0 +1
30. Automatic fire detection systems installed throughout all areas and continuously monitored? 0 +2

Manual Fire Fighting Response

31. On-site and/or public fire brigade available within 5 minutes and capable of effective fire control? 0 +1
32. Firewater supplies available - hydrants, water reservoirs? 0 +1

Automatic Fire Fighting Protection

33. Full coverage automatic sprinkler systems provided? 0 +4
If YES to question 33 answer following:
33.1 Protection systems inspected monthly and serviced annually? 0 +1
33.2 Protection system of proper design and adequate for stored products? 0 +1
33.3 Changes in storage type and arrangement accounted for in design of sprinkler system? 0 +1

Smoke Control
34. Smoke control strategy considered and aided by features such as smoke extraction systems,
heat and smoke vents, fire doors activated by smoke detectors? 0 +1

Environmental Issues
35. Stored products are known to be environmentally sensitive? +1 0
36. Provisions made for firewater run-off? 0 +1

Total Consequence Score (20 maximum)

Risk Ranking Map

High Risk Very High Risk
Priority for fire prevention improvements


Medium Risk High Risk

Priority for fire control improvements

Low Risk

0 10 20
Global Property & Casualty
One Camomile Street
London EC3A 7LA
Telephone: +44 (0)20 7488 8111
Fax: +44 (0)20 7975 2402

7 Hanover Square
7th Floor
New York NY10004
Telephone: +1 (212) 344 8888
Fax: +1 (212) 344 8442

Website: www.willis.com