A fire on 10 October destroyed a new car park at Luton Airport, north of London. Bedfordshire Fire & Rescue Service believes none of the 1,500 cars in the car park will be salvageable. The fire is reported to have started in a diesel car on the penultimate storey. It spread to hundreds of cars and heat weakened the structure, causing it to collapse. ITV News has video footage of the damage. During the fire the airport had to close and many thousands of passengers had their flights cancelled.
The BBC reports that Andy Hopkinson, Bedfordshire Fire & Rescue Service Chief Fire Officer, said that the car park was not sprinklered and that a recommendation to fit sprinklers in any redevelopment would be made to the airport.
This is not the first major fire in an above ground car park, the UK having seen a huge fire at a car park in Liverpool on 31 December 2017 when 1,000 cars were destroyed. It is not even the first major fire in an airport above ground car park, with over 300 cars destroyed and partial collapse of the car park in a fire at Stavanger Airport on 7 January 2020. Other recent above ground car park fires include one that destroyed over 150 vehicles in Japan on 20 August 2023 and another that destroyed 60 cars in Ireland on 1 September 2019.
Some have claimed that electric vehicles were responsible for fire spread. While electric vehicles can burn more intensely if the battery is involved, none of these fires started in an electric vehicle and in Liverpool the investigation found that flowing petrol and diesel spread the fire. There have also been many major car park fires before electric vehicles became available, such as one that destroyed over 50 cars in central Paris in 2012.
Fire safety codes traditionally only concern themselves with life safety. Fortunately none of these fires led to loss of life. However, it is clear from media reports and comments that society does not accept this level of damage and disruption. Sprinklers could keep the fire to the vehicle of origin and the fire to a minor incident. This has been proven in testing both for internal combustion engine vehicles as well as for electric vehicles.