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Much has been written about facade fire safety and facade fires since the Grenfell Tower disaster four years ago. At least one of the causes appears to be ignorance. At a recent conference in The Netherlands one speaker claimed that ignorance could also lead to mistakes in that country.

Before Grenfell there were several high profile facade fires and there have been more since. There was much discussion about whether sprinklers could have helped prevent the tragedy of Grenfell. While no clear conclusions have emerged, we can see that facade fires in unsprinklered buildings have caused much more damage than facade fires in sprinklered buildings. Furthermore, all the fatalities caused by facade fires have occurred in unsprinklered buildings. We are not suggesting that if sprinklers are fitted any material can be used in the facade. Sprinklers cannot extinguish facade fires. However, they can prevent the fire from entering the building and have done so in fires in Australia, the Middle East and Turkey. Damage is then limited and people have more time to escape. Sprinklers offer another line of defence if errors have been made in the facade fire protection.

Two facade fires in Madrid illustrate this. The first, on 29 August 2020, was in Torre Ámbar, a 22 storey building 75 m high. Like Grenfell, the fire in this unsprinklered building gutted the floors above where it started. Fortunately, the fire started near the top of the building so ‘only’ five floors were destroyed and people in those floors did not have to travel so far to escape the fire. The second fire, on 3 June 2021, was in the fully sprinklered Hotel Nuevo Madrid, a 14 storey building 40 m high. It is believed to have been caused by the failure of an emergency light battery in a false ceiling above an office on the ground floor. A single sprinkler below the ceiling prevented interior fire spread from the office but the fire reached the facade through the ceiling space. Apart from the office, all the fire and smoke damage was restricted to the outside of the building and the hotel was able to reopen within hours. Some rooms suffered water damage as firefighters extinguished the facade fire.

In Spain hotels higher than 28 m must be sprinklered, whereas the height threshold is 80 m for sprinklers in apartment buildings. The EFSN is campaigning for 28 m to be applied to all buildings.