A car park at Kings Dock, close to the Echo Arena in Liverpool, went up in flames on New Year’s Eve. The final event of the Liverpool International Horse Show had to be cancelled as fire crews tackled the inferno and people were evacuated from the area. Witnesses described abandoning their vehicles and running for their lives as the fire broke out.
Fire investigators believe the blaze started at 4.30pm on Sunday when the engine of an old Land Rover accidentally ignited. The fire spread rapidly through the seven-storey car park, destroying 1,600 vehicles and seriously damaging the building. It’s currently unknown whether the building will have to be demolished.
Luckily no people or animals were seriously injured in the blaze. Six dogs were rescued from cars. Two people were treated for smoke inhalation and one woman injured her hand whilst trying to escape. Local people offered lifts and accommodation to those left stranded.
Fire crews arrived at the scene within eight minutes but were unable to get the blaze under control using standard water mains. Instead a high volume pump was set up to draw water from the River Mersey. By the time this was established, however, the building had already been engulfed in flames, with temperatures reaching between 800⁰C and 1,000⁰C.
Investigations are underway to determine the cause of the fire and why it was able to spread so quickly. Mayor of Liverpool, Joe Anderson, blames recent fire service budget cuts. He states that two years ago there would have been eight fire engines responding to the emergency call rather than just two. Others are pointing to the lack of a fire sprinkler system within the car park.
Under current rules, car parks are not required to have fire sprinkler systems installed. However, experts have commented that these regulations are based upon research into vehicle fires conducted in the 1960s.
The research doesn’t take into account the increased size of fuel tanks, the detonators used in air bags, the higher flammability of car materials and the fact that cars are now bigger than they used to be. All of these factors allow fires to pass more easily from one vehicle to another.
The Building Research Establishment (BRE) reported in 2009 that, of the 260 fires in car parks in the UK each year, sprinkler systems would limit fires to a single car and greatly reduce structural damage.
Dan Stephens, the chief fire officer of Merseyside Fire & Rescue Service said, “One thing is for certain - had the building been sprinklered there is every chance that would have suppressed the fire sufficiently then for us to be able to go in and extinguish the fire without it spreading in the way that it did."
"I believe a sprinkler system would certainly have suppressed the fire, it would definitely have limited the spread and given us a much better opportunity to put the fire out before it spread to the extent it did.
"Given the intensity of the fire, given some of the fire incidents we've seen over the past 12 months, I think the fact that no-one was injured here and there's been no fatalities... I think that's a very good outcome indeed."
It was once thought unlikely that a fire could spread from one parked car to another. With modern cars, this no longer seems to be the case. Fire sprinkler systems have a 99% success rate when deployed to extinguish or contain a fire, suggesting that their installation could protect people and property in car parks across the country.