A Member University has submitted a claim arising out of a fire at their campus. The building is a storeroom/warehouse, which had timber pallets stacked against an outside wall, awaiting collection. The fire originated from what appears to be the deliberate ignition of these pallets. The fire was detected by a fire sensor, and the alarm raised. The building was not fitted with automatic sprinklers.
Inside the building, a large quantity of paper was stored against the sheet metal wall where the fire started. Due to the heat of the fire on the outside, the wall buckled and the paper caught alight with the fire quickly spreading throughout the structure, causing total destruction of the contents, and extensive damage to the building.
The walls and roof of the building have been destroyed and will need to be replaced. Fortunately, the concrete slab and the main structural beams of the building have been determined by a structural engineer to be sound, and do not need to be replaced however the beams must be dismantled to permit sandblasting and re-painted. The building is to be re-built using “tilt slab” (ie concrete) walls, which will provide much greater heat insulation properties than the original steel walls. The additional cost of this improvement will be met by the Member.
All contents of the building were destroyed by fire, smoke or water. A complete list of the contents is still being compiled. We are advised that this list will include a large quantity of paper, new computers awaiting delivery to various departments, chemicals, a forklift truck, two electric delivery vehicles and an electronic security system awaiting installation elsewhere on campus.
An adjacent building contains the University Printery, and it is very fortunate that the fire did not spread into this building, which contains expensive printing machinery. This building, along with others nearby, sustained smoke and soot damage in varying degrees.
Following the fire, the University acted with great efficiency in mitigating its loss. This was achieved through the implementation of the University’s Disaster Management Plan, which assisted in the coordination of the clean-up operation, reduced smoke damage in adjacent buildings and minimised the disruption to the University’s ongoing operations.
The loss is estimated at $500,000.
The circumstances of this fire illustrate the hazard posed by stacking wooden pallets, and other combustible materials, against the outside walls of buildings. This hazard has been highlighted in many survey reports issued by Unimutual’s property reinsurers over the years. The University in question generally displays good housekeeping, and pallets were collected from outside the building once a week. However, the fire occurred the night before the weekly collection.
To prevent a recurrence, the University is now storing used pallets on vacant ground, away from buildings. The returnable pallets are still collected weekly, but the non-returnable pallets are now disposed of more frequently than previously, with the result that there are fewer pallets