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Role of oil-based insulation in fire questioned

Role of oil-based insulation in fire spread questioned

A review by building regulatory authorities of fire safety issues associated with the use of oil-based insulation material is justified following the fire at the Takaka dairy facility owned by the Fonterra Co-operative Group.

A spokesman for the Insulation Council of Australia and New Zealand (ICANZ), Bruce Kohn, said today the Takaka blaze highlights the value that automatic sprinklers can provide for fire protection in these types of buildings.

“This insulation and other oil-based insulation materials are combustible. Although retardant properties can be built into combustible products this is usually only effective at mitigating small fire attack. Any sustained fire usually quickly overwhelms it, as was demonstrated at the Takaka blaze.

“Testing has shown that in a fire situation these products will melt and vaporise, forming flammable gases that can contribute to very rapid flame spread throughout a building. Polyester insulation, for example, has the potential to form burning droplets hazardous to anyone in or leaving a building.”

Initial reports were that welding was being carried out at the Takaka facility when the fire broke out. Sandwich foam panels were in use as ceiling and wall linings, as well as cladding in a number of areas.

Mr Kohn added “Smoke detectors can provide an early warning to staff of a fire outbreak in such facilities. But an automatic sprinkler system that is activated by the released heat is probably the most effective safety measure in acting on a fire to stop its growth where this type of insulation is used. The system can quickly damp down a blaze and help prevent the fire from spreading.

“This form of insulation is well suited to particular uses. There seems a case, however, in the interests of staff and fire fighter safety that building authorities should look at potential hazard reducing measures.”


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