Business Sprinkler Alliance



Fire crews in Lancashire responded to a devastating industrial fire in early November. The huge fire at a cheese packing facility near Preston caused major disruption, and follows a series of food factory fires in recent years where buildings were either completely or partially destroyed, with none of them having the benefit of an automatic sprinkler system.

The major blaze at the Butlers Farmhouse Cheese facility in Longridge on November 6th required 60 firefighters and 10 appliances to bring under control. Whilst the company’s dairy was not impacted due to being on a separate site, its office and packing site was destroyed in the blaze. For the cheese producing business which has a turnover of £18.5 million, this has the potential for significant business disruption, as the packing facility will have to be replaced or rebuilt and staff will need to be redeployed.

While night shift workers escaped unharmed, considerable resources were used by the fire and rescue service to control the fire. The impact on the local community and environment was significant with two local schools having to close for the day,   residents forced to keep their windows and doors closed due to harmful smoke and a number of measures employed to minimise the impact of pollution to the local environment. It was reported that demolition of the destroyed 3,500m2 building was taking place the following week.

The business that suffered the devastating fire was not required under current building regulations to have sprinklers installed. People are sometimes confused by this as they see the consequences of the fire and the claims of meeting current regulations and wonder how such destruction could occur with a building in compliance to regulations. In a fire of this magnitude, the fire service acted to contain the fire. Surely, buildings that are completely damaged in a fire have fire loads within them that require forms of active fire protection such as sprinklers to limit a potential fire?

The sad fact is that they do not. There may be an assumption that food industry buildings contain limited combustible materials and thus pose little fire risk. However, the growing number of major food factory blazes in the UK and Europe demonstrates this is far from the case. In fact the number of primary fires in industrial premises recorded as food and drink processing facilities averaged 100 per year in England over the five year period from 2017/18 to 2021/221

This current financial year has continued with some significant food fires with a bakery fire in Dudley in September and a chilled foods business in Willenhall in January. Both of these fires had similar outcomes despite the intervention of significant numbers of firefighters. The bakery was contained within a building of over 4,000m2 which was completely destroyed by the blaze and the chilled food business fire saw a building of 3,000m2 largely destroyed. Sadly neither premises had sprinklers.

Acting quickly to quell the spread of fire when it is first detected aids fire safety, limits damage and minimises impacts. Sprinklers have been shown to be effective to contain, control or extinguish fires in 99% of cases when caused to operate2.

Installing sprinklers would have protected these businesses in the long run. They safeguard against potentially disastrous losses and also aid life safety. By preventing large fires, sprinklers also protect the environment by avoiding CO2 emissions, reducing excess water use by the fire brigade and eliminating water supply contamination. Above all, they maintain business continuity. In the event of a fire, many businesses with sprinkler systems find they are back up and running in a matter of hours.



Primary fires in industrial premises, 2017-18 to 2021-22 – Home Office November 2022

Efficiency and Effectiveness of Sprinkler Systems in the United Kingdom: An Analysis from Fire Service Data – Optimal Economics May 2017

Image Credit: Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service