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Guest Blog - Caravan Fire Safety

Posted by wilkinsoncc on August 21, 2011 at 4:25 PM

Recent incidents at Talybont* & Coombe Haven** have seen 4 deaths in caravan fires this summer, throwing the issue of fire safety on caravan parks back into the limelight.

We are pleased to feature a Guest Blog by the UK's leading expert on the planning and design of Caravan parks - Ian Butler. Ian is a Chartered Surveyor and Town Planner with over 30 years in private practice. He has been involved with all aspects of caravan park design, planning, development and licencing since the late 1970’s and in the emergence of legislation and control over all kinds of caravan park. He is a national associate member of the British Holiday & Home Parks Association (BH&HPA) and has been a national advisor to the caravan industry.


Guest Blog 

There’s no doubt about it, if a caravan catches fire it does burn well and usually there is little left at the end of the day. This doesn’t make caravans inherently dangerous though and in many ways they are often better protected in fire safety terms than bricks and mortar dwellings.

 

Caravans vary from the touring variety (that are often towed behind slow moving cars in country lanes evidenced by a long queue of other vehicles behind!) to the luxury mobile homes which remain sedentarily sited on a ‘Park Home’ estate. In the middle there is a multiplicity of static holiday caravans, generally used for holiday purposes.

 

All ‘caravan parks’ are subject not only to town planning controls, but to licencing by Environmental Health Departments under the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960. This Act imposes a requirement upon authorities to issue a caravan site licence which contains a series of ‘standards’ concerning the operation and environmental management of any caravan park. The Secretary of State issued Model Standards as a guide to authorities on those standards normally to be expected and these vary depending upon the type of caravan park concerned. It is open the an authority to set standards as they think fit, subject to such standards not being unduly burdensome. The current Model Standards for each type of caravan are referenced at the end of this article.

 

Amongst the numerous standards are a series of mandatory requirements for the provision of fire safety measures, both within the caravan and throughout the park as a whole. These originally involved fire buckets, hoses and alarm bells at regularly spaced fire points, but over the years has developed on many parks toward fire hydrants and more modern fire fighting features. The spacing between caravans is also an important element in ensuring that fire spread between caravans is contained.

 

The evolution of caravan manufacture was slow and largely based on the adaptation of three-ply constructed touring caravans. By the mid 1960’s the sheet metal constructed touring caravan emerged, together with its larger stablemate the static holiday caravan (static for obvious reasons), swiftly followed by a twin-unit variety which led to further dimensional controls being introduced. These larger units are generally used for residential purposes and tend to be of timber frame construction on a metal chassis.

In February 1989 – “Fire Spread Between Park Homes and Caravans” was published. The research was based on the testing of a conventional (contemporary) aluminium holiday caravan (primarily designed and generally used for holiday use) and a conventional single unit ‘Park Home’ designed specifically for residential use. The park home was of plywood construction on a steel chassis with a tiled pitched roof and was generally of more robust construction than the holiday caravan. The report notes that:

 

“The two units burned in notably different manners; in the holiday caravan the walls and roof were soon destroyed and flames passed upward through the roof; in the park home the body and roof remained intact for a while so that the flames jetted out of the window and door openings”

The FRS research gave rise to recommendations that the spacing distance between aluminium holiday caravans could be reduced from 6m to 5m. They also recommended that spacing could be reduced to 3.5m between aluminium holiday caravans at the corners with some intrusions into the 5m space for porches, awnings, disabled ramps etc. The metal caravans of today generally achieve a Class 1 Fire Rating.

 

For residential caravans the recommendations of the FRS research on conventional park homes required the retention of a 6m spacing between units, but allowed some incursions into this space for porches, drainpipes and bay windows (5.25 minimum space between adjacent units), disabled ramps, verandahs, stairs etc.(4.5m clear space).

 

Separate Model Standards (the 1989 standards) were issued between the two types of caravan unit.

In 2008 the Model Standards for residential caravans were updated and introduced a change in control with regard to fire safety. Following the introduction of the Fire Safety Order in 2005 a duty was placed on “the responsible person” to carry out suitable and sufficient assessments of the fire risks on the premises. The Order applies to holiday caravan parks (excluding privately owned units – unless they are sub-let) and the common areas of park homes (residential caravans). The latter criterion evidently excludes from consideration the residential caravan itself and its surroundings in private occupation. This has given rise to issues of interpretation which have yet to be adequately resolved. Some Fire Authorities are certain that caravan spacing is not within the scope of the FSO, whereas others consider it is. It is a moot point.

 

Do the Model Standards work in practice? Arguably yes. It was evident from the FRS research that spacing could be narrower for metal caravans, although the construction of timber based residential units required the maintenance of 6m (20 ft) or thereabouts.

 

There have been very few circumstances over 40 years reported where caravan fires have led to significant spread between units. And here is a good example. A metal caravan was deliberately set on fire by arson in the midst of a park where spacing was 5m between rows and only 3m end to end (as approved by a current and lawfully issued Site Licence). The photos (July 2011) illustrate that the fire burned exactly as noted in the FRS research and did not affect adjoining units, despite the non-standard spacing approved on this park.

 

Ian Butter FRICS MRTPI

The Rural and Urban Planning Consultancy www.ruralurbanplanning.co.uk


 


* http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-north-west-wales-13746072

** http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-sussex-14554366

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