Manchester self-storage warehouse will be rebuilt with sprinklers following fire
A self-storage facility destroyed by a major fire in 2022 will now be rebuilt. The building owner Orbit Investments has applied for planning permission 12 months after the fire for a new taller storage facility and an additional warehouse at its site in Cheadle. Whilst the news of this rebuilding with sprinklers is a positive sign, it is a harsh lesson in overcoming adversity and poses questions as to why key resilience measures like sprinkler systems are not common to mitigate such events from the outset?
The fire on February 26th 2022 at the unsprinklered Armadillo Self Storage facility was declared a major incident when over 130 firefighters and 25 fire engines were called to battle the blaze. The fire brought disruption to the local area, with the building close to an arterial road out of Manchester, and residents were forced to shut all windows due to smoke. Fortunately, there were no fatalities, but the wider impact to the hundreds of people who had rented units and lost stored goods was felt long after the fire was extinguished by the fire and rescue service.
The original site was general warehouse and industrial use and over time changed to self-storage use. Therefore the regulatory guidance would have indicated from 2006 that this should have been sprinklered. This new-build replacement storage facility will have a floor plan over 2000m2 and regulations guide the owners to sub-divide the facility into smaller compartments or provide sprinklers. It makes one curious as to whether the guidance was followed when the building had a change of use from industrial to self storage.
What is clear with fires in self storage facilities is that they are challenging to contain due to the large quantity of combustibles and often unknown materials which are normally tightly-packed into facilities of this type. There is also light separation between the storage units which are designed for security rather than fire separation. These incidents create large fires that burn hard for a long time, creating a lot of smoke which in this case was seen across Manchester.
The fire in Cheadle follows similar fires from the Safehouse fire in 2017, Shurgard as we left 2018 and through to the Twinwoods Business Park fire in 2019 and Denton fire in 2021. The catastrophic Shurgard Self Storage fire in Croydon destroyed every one of its 1198 storage units. The site was un-sprinklered and the cause of the blaze was filed as undetermined. Shurgard’s replacement four-storey facility opened in 2020, with the owners making the decision to include sprinklers in the rebuild despite not being required to by building regulations.
Fire incidents tell us a lot about the challenges of such concentrated amounts of combustible storage and the challenges to firefighting by the fire service to contain them without the early intervention of systems such as sprinklers.
Sprinklers are a proven method of controlling fires. They allow fire crews time to safely gain access and extinguish the fire. The BSA welcomes their consideration as a way of ensuring that properties of all types are adequately protected.
By Iain Cox, Chair of the Business Sprinkler Alliance, for more information about the BSA visit the www.business-sprinkler-alliance.org