Cause of Glasgow School of Art fire ‘undetermined’

A new report from the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service shows that despite a three year fire investigation, the cause of the 2018 fire that destroyed the Glasgow School of Art may never be known.  

The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) fire investigation report shows the ferocity and scale of the fire that consumed the Mackintosh Building on 15 June 2018. At its peak over 100 firefighters were in attendance. The intensity of the fire made finding the cause incredibly difficult and as a result, the report is unable to confirm where and how it started.  

The Mackintosh Building was undergoing refurbishment after a previous fire in 2014 and had only been partially restored by the time of the 2018 fire. Describing the fire investigation as unprecedented and protracted, SFRS said that the extent of the fire damage was far greater than the 2014 fire: “With the entire building suffering catastrophic damage.”

The report discusses the nature of fire risk in construction sites.

“In general terms, during building construction and restoration, buildings can become more vulnerable to fire as passive and active fire precautions are impacted by construction activities. In terms of passive fire safety measures, compartmentation and separation, normally inherent in the building design, are compromised as building works are undertaken. Passive features prevent fire spread by providing physical barriers between rooms and floors. A lack of passive fire safety measures within any building promotes unchecked smoke, heat and fire spread.”

The initial area of interest for the investigation is centred on the location of the CCTV and fire alarm system control panel, which the report said: “Could have been key items of evidence with potential to provide detailed information to support the investigation.” They were unable to recover the control system for the scaffolding alarm system as it too perished in the fire.   

There are photographs in the report showing the recovered CCTV recorder and fire alarm panel, these show the ferocity of the fire. The data recovery company tasked with examining both media said of the fire alarm panel: “We found a large panel within that looked likely to be the motherboard. Upon attempting to access it, it began disintegrating as we touched it and there was no discernible electronics or chips that would suggest there was any chance of recovery of information.”

The destruction of both the CCTV recorder and the fire alarm panel was compounded by the lack of off-site data collection for either media, meaning there was no back up for the fire investigators to examine. The scaffolding alarm system was remotely monitored and it too had no off-site data storage.

Concluding the report, the authors provide some recommendations:

  • Ensure that management teams consider fire risk in the early planning phases of construction projects
  • Make sure that staff working on site know how to manage fire protection measures over the lifetime of a construction site, particularly as the building vulnerability changes in relation to works being carried out
  • Implement fire alarm systems that are carefully maintained and appropriately managed by a competent person to ensure they give early warning particularly during unoccupied periods
  • Introduce passive and active fire safety measures to protect a building as soon as possible in the construction phase and assist in checking a developing fire within a specified area

The full report is available from the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service.