Composite fencing on fire. Large plume of smoke and flames visible

 

Due to their attractive appearance and low maintenance requirements, composite fencing materials are increasingly being used in both domestic and commercial settings. Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service (LFRS) has attended several serious fires involving this type of product. By contrast to more traditional fencing materials, the resultant fires have been observed to spread more rapidly, generate taller flames, produce more heat, and evolve higher volumes of thick acrid smoke, causing very significant property damage and life risk.A house burnt following a fire with an aerial ladder platform still at the site

All significant fires have been reported to the appropriate government departments and risk information has been exchanged with other fire and rescue services via the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) Operational and Protection learning systems. It is hoped these processes will drive further investigation into the underlying factors relating to this type of fire which will determine if changes might be required to product safety legislation, planning and/or building regulations. These processes naturally take time. In the interim period, this safety note has been assembled to help you understand the potential hazards posed by some composite fencing materials to help you make informed decisions and take earlier action to keep people and property safe.

Who should use this safety note?

This note is intended for homeowners and anyone who specifies, purchases, or installs composite fencing material for domestic, commercial and residential premises or has a role managing property and estates.

It is also for anyone who undertakes fire risk assessments of commercial or residential premises under the requirements of the Fire Safety Order 2005.

What do these images show me?

The first image shows a composite fencing fire minutes after ignition. The second (at a different location) the extent of resultant fire damage. The vertical concrete posts are where the composite fencing used to be.

The images show how some composite fencing materials burn, the amount and type of flame and smoke they produce, and how the resultant heat from composite materials close to buildings can cause fire to spread into them before the fire service can attend and intervene.

Composite fencing materials – Key observations

  • Even though they may have the same appearance as wood, some composite fencing materials behave very differently when involved in fire when compared to similarly sized traditional wood-based products.
  • The speed of burn can be much faster, the flame height can be greater, the heat released and radiated can be more intense, and the smoke produced can be much greater in both volume and acridity.
  • Fencing materials are not classed as construction products and are therefore not explicitly covered in building regulations, and thus not regulated in terms of their fire behaviour
  • Purchasers may incorrectly assume equivalence with timber products and think that fire safety has been fully considered earlier by those responsible for product development and retail.
  • Although it is possible to purchase composite fencing products that have resistance to fire ignition and spread, there are also many that have little or no fire resistance.

I am responsible for commercial premises or housing estates – what should I do?

  • Ensure your fire risk assessment considers the external envelope and wall system of all the building/s.
  • Make your fire risk assessor/s aware of this guidance note and the images from recent
  • If composite fencing is present, establish if it is fire resistant – check with the manufacturer

If the type of material cannot be established, or is confirmed to have low fire resistance:

In locations where potential for ignition is not under the full and direct control of the owner / landlord we strongly recommend eliminating / reducing the hazard by removing the fencing adjacent to the premises (minimum of 6m) and replacing with a non-composite product as soon as possible, taking the following actions to reduce risk in the intervening period:

  • Ensure all other aspects of fire precautions are fully functioning (fire alarms, fire doors etc).
  • Consider if there is potential for fire and smoke to spread into the wall system or into the premises (especially if the External Wall System is known to be flammable – if so, act immediately).
  • Consider who is at risk, if your occupiers are vulnerable and/or require assistance to escape, could the rate of smoke production from burning composite fencing overwhelm your emergency plan?
  • Take action to reduce the potential for ignition (remove ignition sources such as heaters and bbqs).
  • Take action to reduce the potential for fire spread (move other combustibles such as bins away).
  • Notify occupiers and managers and make them aware what they can do to minimise fire risk.

For further advice, visit our business fire safety pages

I live in a dwelling that has composite fencing – what should I do?

  • If you own the dwelling, and composite fencing materials appear to be present, establish if it is fire resistant – check with the retailer / installer / manufacturer
  • If you are a tenant, and composite fencing materials appear to be present, check with your landlord

If the type of material cannot be established or is confirmed to have low fire resistance and you are unable or unwilling to replace it, we urge you to be aware of the risk and keep you and your family/guests safe by:

  • Ensuring smoke alarms are fitted and working (always good advice in any case).
  • Ensuring escape routes are clear and everyone in the household is familiar with the escape
  • Taking action to reduce potential for ignition (remove ignition sources such as heaters and bbqs).

For further advice, visit our home fire safety pages

Can Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service assess the material in my fence panels?

Unfortunately, no – LFRS is not a product testing organisation and community safety and fire safety inspectors are not trained or qualified to assess specific materials. Where products have been purchased and fitted in the first instance enquiries should be made with the manufacturer / retailer / installer.

For additional information, please email ProtectionSupport@lancsfirerescue.org.uk