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Social housing 'fire threat' warning

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Houses built with a central timber frame are a fire disaster waiting to happen, experts have warned

The Fire Protection Association (FPA) said the nature of the method, whereby a traditional block is erected around a wooden skeleton, means that relatively minor fires could quickly spread to the core of the building without being noticed.

Statistics released by the Department of Communities and Local Government seem to support the claims, with the figures showing that blazes in such homes have a greater average spread than those in traditionally-built houses.

Timber-frame construction has grown in popularity in recent years because it is cheap and produces results quickly. Once used predominantly in the building of individual properties, it is now thought to be present in 60 per cent of all new social homes.

While the the timber-frame industry insists its buildings are safe because combustible cavities are surrounded by fireproof walls, experts say that something as small as incorrectly-mounted flatscreen TV could puncture holes in this layer of protection.

One senior employee of a leading insurer said it was a case of “when, not if” a blaze in a block built using a central timber frame caused a significant loss of life.

Jim Glockling, technical director of the FPA, said more needed to be done to assess the number of homes that could be affected.

‘Often these blocks are put up four at a time,’ he explained. ‘When we investigate a fire and find a construction fault in one, can we assume the other three buildings are perfect? Possibly not. They might need a close look too.’

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