underground fires

Posted by & filed under Sustainability.

Fires do happen … and not just in buildings. Last year saw wildfires spread across Greenland, Los Angeles, Montana, Portugal and Canada. With wild fire devastation getting worse every year for several parts of the world, we are tragically seeing an increase a loss of both human and animal life. While the loss of life, livelihood, homes and nature are clearly the primary concern; there are other factors that we often don’t realize are a result of these wildfires.

California in particular is always hard hit by wildfire season; so much so that homes built in fire hazard severity zones must be built to fire-resistant regulations. While this certainly protects the above ground surfaces, we must also look at what is happening underneath the surface.

When a fire occurs, wildfire or not, underground drainage pipes can suffer from serious damage, particularly if the pipe is manufactured from high-density polyethylene (HDPE) or polypropylene (PP). If the pipes burn, they can add fuel to the fire, if they melt, they can cause flooding, mudslides and even sinkholes, causing even further problems.

With wildfires predicted to double over the coming decades, and many building fires occurring every day, is it good enough to create drainage systems out of HDPE, PP and other plastics materials? With so much effort being put into creating safe and fire resistant above ground structures, it is about time building regulations looked at the problems beneath the surface. After all, fire resistant buildings can be deemed academic if a sinkhole forms in the ground they stand on.

For BPDA, the solution is simple. Concrete pipes are the way forward. If a fire of any type occurs, concrete can withstand the high temperatures and remain functioning and in place. This not only prevents flooding, mudslides and possible sink holes, it also reduces the cost and time of the clean-up and rebuild operation. Furthermore, the use of concrete pipes reduces the fuel available from which the fire can feed, hopefully making it easier to control and reduce the spread of fire.

In your next construction project, consider underground fire risks. Certainly here in the UK it is extremely rare for us to experience a wild fire. However, given the poor fire performance properties of HDPE plastic pipes, is it really wise to specify these in any area with a fire risk? Any building is it at risk of fire, and the use of HDPE pipes could mean the fire spreads uncontrollably and at a faster rate.

Choose your drainage materials carefully.

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