Business Sprinkler Alliance



A massive fire engulfed a 33,000m2 building in Cannock used for warehousing and distribution, sending plumes of smoke across the West Midlands. The immense blaze, visible from 20 miles away in Birmingham, destroyed the logistics facility and will impact a number of businesses.  It begs the question once again as to why fires on this scale are still happening?

The devastating fire broke out on May 9th in a warehouse operated by Super Smart Services (SSS), a facility that is reported to handle over 70,000 parcels each day.  The blaze captured national news and attention. It required 10 fire crews, water carriers and aerial ladder platforms from the Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service along with neighbouring fire and rescue services to contain it.  Local roads to businesses were closed and local residents had to keep their windows and doors closed as a precaution due to heavy amounts of smoke coming from the building. Thankfully, there were no reported injuries in the blaze but there will be repercussions for the logistics business and its customers.

The warehouse clearly did not have automatic fire sprinklers installed. Once again people are asking why not? The fire appears to be a repeat from six years ago of the massive Gardman fire, which destroyed a similarly sized unsprinklered warehouse six months after it opened. Both fires have led to common questions as to why a building of such scale did not have sprinklers. Clearly such a building at 33,000m2 and 15m clear storage height is not a common building. Therefore, one would expect it to fall outside of current guidance.1

It makes one wonder what was the specialist approach and why did it fail?  Some have suggested fire compartmentation. For such a building such compartmentation would have had to be substantial and taken account of the structures either side of the wall. The point being, if that had been the approach there is no obvious evidence in images of the destroyed building.

The basic hazards of a warehouse remain the same, large stocks of combustible material held in perfect arrays for burning. The impact of free burning combustible storage is evident in the images from this fire. Unless caught early such high storage arrays generate fires that are beyond the intervention of the fire and rescue service. They lead to extensive damage and often burn until the entire fire load is consumed. Trying to stop the progress of the fire without the early intervention of water requires sacrificing parts or all of the building, unless a substantial fire partition or separation is engineered. 

It could have been so different. Businesses that have implemented sprinkler systems often experience only minor disruptions and can quickly resume operations within hours. Conversely, those without such systems may encounter on average five-to-six times more damage and endure longer periods of interruption.

The stark contrast between buildings equipped with sprinkler systems and those without becomes evident in the event of a fire. Recent statistics reveal the average cost of a large warehouse fire amounts to £5.9m2 and at least one warehouse fire occurring every working day in England alone. These figures underscore the critical importance for businesses to carefully consider the impact of fire and its devastating consequences.

Fire incidents remain the primary cause of damage in warehouse buildings, and although the number of industrial fires may have decreased, we are still recording a warehouse fire every working day, the severity and cost of such incidents that do occur are on the rise.  Implementing systems like sprinklers can effectively contain and extinguish fires, thereby safeguarding firefighters and preserving businesses, jobs, and the economy. This is why the Business Sprinkler Alliance campaigns for the inclusion of such sprinkler systems into warehousing units.


1Manual to the Building Regulations – Chapter 7

2Fears pandemic-led e-commerce boom could spark rise in warehouse blazes


Image Credit: Express and Star