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 recently attended two serious fires involving this type of material. Both occurred when composite fencing was accidentally ignited and the resultant fires spread rapidly, generated tall flames and high levels of heat release, and produced high volumes of acrid smoke, leading to significant property damage and life risk.

Both fires have been reported to the appropriate government departments (via the Building Research Establishment) and risk information has been exchanged with other fire and rescue services via the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) Operational and Protection learning systems. These processes will drive further investigations into the underlying factors relating to this type of fire and will determine if changes might be required to product safety legislation, planning and building regulations. These processes naturally take time to undertake, and this interim safety note has been shared to help you understand the potential hazards posed by some composite fencing materials to enable you to take earlier action if required.

Who should use this safety note?

This note is intended for use by anyone who specifies, purchases, or installs composite fencing material for domestic and commercial premises or has a role managing property and estates.
It is also intended to be used by anyone who undertakes fire risk assessments of commercial premises under the requirements of the Fire Safety Order 2005.

What do these images show me?

The first image shows a recent fire minutes after ignition and the second, the resultant fire damage at a different incident. 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 to similarly sized more 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, are therefore not explicitly covered in building regulations, and thus are currently less well-regulated in terms of their fire behaviour properties.
  • Purchasers may incorrectly be assuming equivalence with timber products and thinking that fire safety has been fully considered by those responsible for the product development and retail stages.
  • 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 of all the building/s.
  • Make your fire risk assessor/s aware of this guidance note and the images from recent fires.
  • If composite fencing materials are present establish if they are fire resistant – check with the manufacturer.

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

  • 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).
  • 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).
  • Consider reducing the hazard by removing the fencing adjacent to the premises and replacing with a suitable wood or fire-resistant product.
  • Notify occupiers and managers and make them aware what they can do to minimise fire risk.

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

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