Safety of timber frame again in the spotlight

The blaze at the PRP-designed housing block is being investigated
The blaze at the PRP-designed housing block is being investigated. Image: Matt Cashmore

A blaze on Saturday afternoon has destroyed two PRP-designed blocks of flats under construction by contractor Mansell at the Lemsford Road site in the centre of Hatfield.

The fire is likely to renew the debate over the use of timber frames on major housing schemes after a Broadway Malyan-designed development in Colindale, North London, was destroyed by fire last year (News Analysis, September 6 2006).

A spokesperson for Mansell owner Balfour Beatty said the cause of the fire was being investigated and any early reports on the cause of the fire was “pure speculation”.

A spokeswoman for the Hertfordshire Fire Service said that the cause of the fire on the two timber-framed blocks was believed to be accidental but that an investigation had begun. No one was hurt in the blaze.

The spokeswoman added that 12 fire engines were called to the site and 50 fire fighters were needed to control the blaze. The fire service only left the scene last night and the fire also affected a nearby industrial unit.

Eyewitness and local resident Scott Newson, business development manager at M&E contractor Emcor Engineering Services, said the fire had been the biggest one to have hit the area for some time. He said the heat from the fire had been intense.

“It must have been pretty hot,” he said, adding that there was some concern that the fire could spread to nearby existing houses. “Nearby street lighting was melting, it was that hot,” he said. “There were also a couple of explosions from gas cannisters.”

Newson added that nearby streets were closed while the fire was being controlled.

The 84-flat scheme was being developed by Metropolitan Housing Trust in partnership with developer St Modwen and is part of a wider £80 million redevelopment of Hatfield town centre.