School Of Art Fire: Cause Known

26 November 2014, 19:12

The blaze which tore through the Glasgow School of Art's historic Mackintosh building began when a projector ignited gases from expanding foam used in a student project, a fire investigation has confirmed.

The flammable gases from a foam canister caught fire when they came into contact with the electrical equipment as work was being carried out on a nearby art installation.

The projector was not faulty but the presence of original ventilation ducts and a large number of timber-lined walls in the building contributed to the rapid spread of the fire, the report concluded.

A new fire suppression system was in the latter stages of completion at the institution but was was not yet fully commissioned and working on the day of the blaze.

It was on May 23 when flames engulfed the Grade A-listed building, leading to the loss of about a tenth of the structure and 30% of its contents, causing shock around the city and the arts world.

The building's prized Mackintosh Library was one of the main casualties of the fire, which happened as students were preparing for their degree shows.

Art school bosses say progress is being made on plans to restore the building - designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh more than a century ago - to its former glory.

The blaze report is the final one produced by the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service into the incident.

The document has not been released publicly but pertinent details of the report have been issued by the GSA with the authorisation of the fire service.

GSA director Professor Tom Inns said: "The fire was an accident and, like any accident, it's caused by many different factors coming together and conspiring against us on the day.

"There are a huge number of lessons that can be learned and we've been working very hard over the last six months on our health and safety procedures, training and so on.

"We've been doing many different things over the summer to learn from the experience and now we go into the process of dealing with the restoration of the building.

"The report is very detailed about how the fire spread round the building and that gives us a lot of new knowledge that we need to take on board.''

The information released by the GSA shows that the fire started within a student exhibition space in studio 19 in the basement.

The student work in question was made up of foam panels fastened to three walls, with one wall left blank to receive images from a projector mounted opposite.

At the time of the incident, visible gaps between the panels were being filled in by applying expanding foam from a canister.

The information released by the school stated: "The fire originated within a projector mounted on a shelf approximately 1.7 metres (5ft 6in) from the ground and located on the south wall of the studio.

"Fire was caused when flammable gases (isobutane, propane and dimethyl ether) used as a propellant within a canister of expanding foam was discharged in close proximity to the projector.

"These flammable gases were drawn into the projector cooling fan.

"The SFRS report has ruled out ignition being caused by this equipment being defective and SFRS could find no evidence to suggest it did not operate as the manufacturers intended.

"It is likely that indirect ignition of the flammable gases occurred as it passed in and around energised electrical components of the projector.''

Details of the rapid spread of the fire have also been released, showing how flames and hot gases soon reached the artwork and engulfed the studio.

They then spread vertically and horizontally to seven other studios and the library.

The statement said: "A major contributory factor for the fire spreading throughout the building was the number of timber-lined walls and voids and original ventilation ducts running both vertically and horizontally throughout the building.''

It went on: "A fire suppression system, designed to enhance existing fire protection measures, was being installed and was in the latter stages of completion; at the time of the fire the system it was not fully commissioned and was not operational.''

The GSA said it is undertaking an ongoing review of its own policies and procedures, which will be informed by the conclusions of the SFRS investigation.

Art school bosses said they will be looking at the specific lessons to be learnt from the incident.