Heritage in Ashes: The Urgency of Better Fire Protection Strategies

The recent devastating fire at Copenhagen's Historic Stock Exchange adds to a troubling trend of heritage site disasters, echoing the tragic 2019 Notre Dame inferno. These incidents highlight the need to move beyond old school smoke detectors and fire extinguishers towards new, advanced fire prevention strategies to protect our irreplaceable cultural heritage.

Fire historic Stock Exchange Copenhagen

While cycling to work last week, Brian Mikkelsen noticed flames and smoke from his workplace. A tragedy under any circumstance, but here’s the catch: Mikkelsen’s office is Denmark’s historic stock exchange building, Börsen. Whilst firefighters and brave volunteers were able to retrieve much of the historic art collection before it succumbed to the flames, the building itself was dramatically damaged before firefighters could control the blaze.

Whilst immediate comparisons were drawn to Notre Dame’s 2019 inferno, these are sadly not the only times that historic buildings have have been engulfed in flame in recent years. These include the 1992 blaze at Windsor Castle in England, the 1996 destruction of Venice’s La Fenice opera house, two fires at Scotland’s Glasgow School of Art in 2014 and 2018, and the disastrous 2018 fire at the National Museum of Brazil where over 90% of Brazil’s National Museum archive was lost to fire damage – an outcome that curators blamed on inadequate preventative measures and poor maintenance.

These catastrophes serve as a reminder of the fragility of heritage, but also of the importance of effective fire prevention and management strategies. Combining technological innovation in preventative measures with international cooperation could prevent similar tragedies in years to come.

No longer should heritage buildings be relying on old school smoke detectors and fire extinguishers

Technological Innovations in Fire Safety
Recent advancements in fire safety technology are providing new avenues to protect heritage sites without compromising their historical integrity. No longer should heritage buildings be relying on old school smoke detectors and fire extinguishers – safer and more reliable technologies are now available:

  1. Early Detection Systems: Modern fire safety strategies often begin with early detection, crucial in preventing substantial damage. Highly sensitive smoke detectors and advanced thermal imaging cameras are now capable of detecting the first signs of fire, often before it becomes visible. These systems can be integrated discreetly, preserving the aesthetic and historical value of the sites while ensuring robust monitoring and rapid response capabilities.

  2. Water Mist Systems: Traditional sprinkler systems, while effective, often cause significant water damage that can be as devastating as the fire itself, particularly in environments containing delicate artefacts and materials. Water mist systems represent a significant advancement, using a fine spray that cools the fire and displaces oxygen from the air. This helps to suppress fires without drowning fragile materials in water.

  3. Fire Compartmentalisation: This technique involves using fire-resistant materials and building strategies to contain fires within limited areas. Innovations such as intumescent paints, which expand when exposed to heat to seal off areas and prevent the spread of flames, and fire-resistant glazing in windows, are examples of how modern materials can enhance the inherent fire safety of heritage buildings without compromising their historical character.

  4. Automated Fire Suppression Drones: The use of drones in fire management at heritage sites is a cutting-edge development. These drones can quickly reach areas that are difficult or dangerous for human firefighters to access. Equipped with fire suppressants or water mist systems, drones can effectively control and extinguish fires in challenging locations – often the case in historic buildings with poor access.

International Cooperation
Research and development partnerships between universities, technology firms, and heritage organizations like UNESCO and ICOMOS are vital for advancing fire safety technologies tailored to heritage conservation.

Protecting valuable, fragile history is a shared responsibility, and these recent examples show that is is not to be taken lightly.

This article was originally published in English. Texts in other languages are AI-translated. To change language: go to the main menu above.

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