Fire dangers of wooden balconies highlighted just weeks before Pankhurst blaze

Posted On 15 Oct 2019 at 1:50 pm

A directive about the fire risk of wooden balconies was made just weeks before flames ripped through timber cladding to engulf a Brighton block of flats.

Cladding is now being stripped out and fire blocks in the roof improved so fire cannot spread so quickly in neighbouring buildings in the housing association estate in Pankhurst Road.

Yesterday, Brighton and Hove News revealed how a witness saw a small fire rip up wooden cladding on a balcony and catch the roof within seconds as he called 999.

Less than an hour after he called, at 8.30pm on Friday, 20 September, video footage of the whole block’s roof completely ablaze were being posted on social media.

A similar fire in Barking in June, where residents filmed flames ripping through timber-clad balconies, led to the government issuing advice to building owners to strip flammable material from balconies.

The witness, who wants to remain anonymous, said: “We could see in the corner of the balcony there was a small fire. It looked like it was a bbq or a patio heater or something.

“We parked at the top of Pankhurst Avenue and when we got through to the fire brigade they asked me to see which floor it was so I got out of the car to get a better look at it.

“By that point it had caught the cladding and was up to the roof. That was in the space of about 60 seconds and as I stood there calling the fire brigade it caught the roof more and more.”

It’s not clear from 2006 planning documents relating to the three Pankhurst blocks what materials were used to build the balconies, but images taken by Google Streetview suggest they had metal frames, glass panels and timber decks and cladding.

A balcony on the Pankhurst block taken by Google Streetview in April 2017

Residents in the neighbouring blocks are not able to return to their homes until the fire safety improvements have been completed, which is expected to happen by the end of the month.

Of those in the fire-damaged block, tenants are being found permanent homes elsewhere and leaseholders put in temporary accommodation until they can move back in.

The London blaze destroyed 20 flats and damaged another ten in the five-year-old Barking Riverside block.

The advice note, issued by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (MHCLG) said: “The view of the Expert Panel is that the removal and replacement of any combustible material used in balcony construction is the clearest way to prevent external fire spread from balconies and therefore to meet the intention of building regulation requirements and this should occur as soon as practical.

“Building owners should inform residents about the risks arising from the presence of combustible materials on balconies.

“They should make clear that smoking, the use of barbecues and storage of flammable property on balconies can increase that risk.

“Advice from fire and rescue authorities is clear that barbecues should not be used on balconies.”

Pankhurst aftermath by @OBDroning on Twitter

A spokeswoman for Guinness Partnership, which owns the buildings, said: “We are undertaking extra safety work to the undamaged block and residents will be able to move back in when this complete.

“The scope for these works was agreed with East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service and includes improving the fire breaks in the roof.

“All Guinness properties that require a Fire Risk Assessment (FRA) have one and these are all up to date. We are responding to MHCLG advice notes.”

She added: “In the three weeks following the fire at Pankhurst Avenue we have been working closely with affected residents to ensure their everyday needs are met and to help return their lives to normal as soon as possible.

“All residents were immediately provided temporary accommodation. Tenants from the damaged block are being offered permanent re-housing by Guinness and have also been given Band A priority by Brighton and Hove City Council.

“Leaseholders have been found longer-term accommodation that meets their needs until the damaged block is ready to move back into.”

  1. bradly Reply

    un-///-believable !!! the Fire Risk Assessment (FRA) documents were not worth the damp paper they were written on.

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