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Major fire in Bridgend destroys unsprinklered warehouse facility

13 February 2024

A MAJOR fire at an industrial estate in Bridgend has destroyed an extensive building used primarily for warehousing. One of the largest fires to have occurred in Europe in recent times, the scale of the blaze was immense, impacting a number of businesses and serving to highlight gaps in fire safety measures.

*Photograph: @npaulroberts

The devastating fire broke out on 19 January in the 20,000 m2 building owned by The Owens Group. This was also home to a number of businesses ranging from a tyre company and storage facility to a business selling paper products. The building was completely destroyed.

The blaze required ten fire crews, four water carriers and two aerial ladder platforms from the South Wales Fire and Rescue Service. The firefighters on scene worked hard to contain the flames. Local residents had to contend with large plumes of smoke shortly after the fire broke out and there were also reports of explosions. The police service since opened an arson investigation.

Thankfully, there were no reported injuries in the blaze, but there will be repercussions for those businesses operating from the warehouse, as well as adjacent companies close to the main warehouse who lost access and power to their premises. There will be ongoing disruption, of course, for all of the other businesses that have used the services of the affected companies.

A training facility and a satellite operation of Bridgend College had to be closed due to their proximity to the blaze. The impact on the local community and environment was significant, with local road closures and nearby residents forced to close windows and doors.

History of the premises

This former Sony factory was reportedly sold off in 2005 when the company ceased manufacturing televisions in Wales. It was then bought by a developer who turned it into units of varying sizes.

There was no original change of use as it retained B1/B8 classification (ie the premises was conceived as a factory/warehouse).

It’s important to point out that unless the whole building was storage, automatic sprinklers would not have been required from a Building Regulations perspective. However, any partitions erected within the building to separate units and changing uses within the building were ineffective. It points to the fact that, for such buildings, the unit of control is the entire building and not a smaller compartment within it.

The stark contrast between buildings equipped with sprinkler systems and those without becomes evident in the event of a fire. Recent statistics reveal the average cost of a large warehouse fire amounts to £5.9 million. At least one warehouse fire breaks out every working day in England alone. These figures underscore the critical importance for businesses to carefully consider the impact of fire and its devastating consequences.

Halting fire spread

Iain Cox, chair of the Business Sprinkler Alliance, commented: “Quickly stopping the spread of fire when it’s first detected is the best way in which to limit damage and minimise costs and impacts. Sprinklers have been shown to contain, control or otherwise extinguish fires in 99% of cases when caused to operate. The affected business can be operational within hours, thereby avoiding the economic and social costs.”

Fire incidents remain the primary cause of damage in warehouse buildings. Although the number of industrial fires may have decreased, the severity and cost of such incidents that do occur are on the rise.

Implementing systems like sprinklers can effectively contain and extinguish fires, in turn safeguarding firefighters and preserving businesses, jobs and the economy. “This is precisely why the Business Sprinkler Alliance campaigns for the inclusion of such sprinkler systems into warehousing units,” concluded Cox.