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Major fire destroyed parking garage in Stavanger

Not enough sprinklers, cars packed in like sardines and a fire brigade that was unable to gain access. These were some of the underlying factors behind one of the worst fires in Stavanger’s history.

The time was 15.35 when the emergency services were first alerted. A car had caught fire in a full parking garage at Stavanger Airport. Shortly thereafter, the multi-level garage filled with several hundred automobiles was a raging inferno. All that the fire brigade could do was stand to the side and spray water at the building from the outside. By evening, a large portion of the building had collapsed. It was like a multi-layer cake that someone had stomped on. All flights were cancelled and residents in the area were ordered to remain indoors, with doors and windows closed, due to the heavy smoke. In a Tweet, Politician Hadia Tajik wrote, “Many of us are sitting right now with our hearts in our throats.”

Major property damage and losses

The next morning, the situation was finally under control and residents of Stavanger could finally breathe a sigh of relief. More than 70 firefighters had been engaged to put out the fire and not a single person was injured. The property damage and losses were massive, however. The building itself was destroyed, along with more than 300 of the cars that were parked there.

Christian Sesseng, Research Manager at RISE Fire Research in Trondheim, is not surprised by how rapidly the fire escalated and its consequences.

– “The fire started in an older model diesel car, when the owner tried to start it. It quickly spread to the cars closest to it. The winds that day were also strong, which is another reason why the flames spread so quickly,” he says.

Much of the material in cars in plastic. That’s where the risk lies.

Parking garages are high risk

Christian Sesseng explains that, compared to many other types of buildings, parking garages are very high risk, in terms of fire. The reason has more to do with their contents, however, than their design and construction.

– “Much of the material in cars in plastic. That’s where the risk lies. It burns quickly and it doesn’t help that cars are parked so close together in large parking garages. Because of this, a fire can spread very quickly in a full garage. Not all parking garages have sprinkler requirements, either. This makes things very difficult for fire brigades in that the fire may already be out of control by the time they get there.

It this particular case, the situation and circumstances were even worse.

– “Firefighters had a very hard time putting out the fire because their trucks were too large for entering the building. They were also worried that the garage would collapse, which is why they could not send in any crew,” says Christian Sesseng.

RISE is conducting an investigation of the fire

RISE Fire Research is currently working on an investigation of the fire and what might have been done to prevent it, or limit its consequences.

“With our investigation, we hope to reveal what could possibly have been done differently. We’ve been engaged by the Norwegian Directorate for Civil Protection (DSB) and the National Office of Building Technology and Administration (DiBK) to investigate the fire and learn from it,” he says.

But there is one conclusion that Christian Sesseng can already make right now.

“A sprinkler system would likely have slowed down the spread of the fire and made it easier for the fire brigade to get things under control once they got there,” says Christian Sesseng.

Published: 2020-02-19

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Nina Kristine Reitan

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Tian Li

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Tian Li

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