Fire flat building changes: 15 minutes to ‘flashover’.
A FATAL apartment fire in a Bankstown tower block burnt so violently it reached an explosive state known as ”flashover” in its first 15 minutes.
A Herald investigation has found fire safety breaches might have contributed to the intense fire, which escaped the apartment and filled the 10-storey block with thick smoke.
Fire investigators and police are examining an extra bedroom that was added to the apartment by walling off part of the dining room.
In another issue that concerns investigators, the four-bedroom apartment appears to have been used as a mini-boarding house, with locks on all bedroom doors.
Investigators have found the front fire-safety door was wedged open at the time of the fire, exposing the whole block to the risk of fire from the flat. A senior emergency services official familiar with the investigation said ”flashover” – an explosive burst that occurs when a fire is so hot that gases and smoke ignite – occurred within 15 minutes of the fire starting. The official did not wish to be named because of a coming coronial inquiry.
He said the open front door created a wind tunnel after fire spread from candles or incense on the balcony to an airconditioning unit, then took hold in a nearby futon-style lounge.
“There was nothing to stop the fire developing,” he said. “There was a massive amount of fuel and wind and the girls were met with a wall of smoke and heat and fire.”
In the hope of fleeing, Connie Zhang and Yino Jiang stood on the window ledge of the fifth-storey flat to jump to a nearby balcony rail. Investigators have found at least one set of fingerprints on the balcony they were trying to reach. Ms Zhang died after she fell. A funeral will be held this morning, to be attended by her boyfriend, uncle and fellow nursing students from Sydney University.
Ms Jiang is in a stable condition in Liverpool Hospital after a six-hour operation on one ofher fractured feet. Surgery on the other foot is expected soon.
The Herald has established that in a 2007 construction certificate, the flat was approved as a three-bedroom apartment but no development approval to convert it to a four-bedroom apartment can be found.
Ms Jiang’s father and mother, Shujuan and Yanfu, expressed their anger yesterday at apparent lapses in the building’s fire safety.
”Proper fire safety features are the very basic requirement for any buildings, regardless of any country,” they wrote in an email.
During the fire on September 6, when internal doors were found with locks on them, the NSW Fire and Rescue officer in charge ordered every locked door from level five upwards to be kicked in, which resulted in a bill of more than $100,000 to replace them.
A boarding house is in a different class of building to apartment blocks, with extra fire safety requirements, including alarms in every bedroom and sprinklers if it is more than three storeys.
Overcrowding and unapproved works inside flats are believed to be common in areas with a high number of students, particularly central Sydney. But it is a frustrating blind spot for NSW Fire and councils, which have almost no right to enter private property, except in emergencies.
A woman who had stayed in the flat said it was a four-bedroom apartment when she lived in it about a year ago, with no obvious signs of recent renovation.
A representative of Property Investors Alliance, a real estate company in Burwood, confirmed the company was the managing agent for the flat but did not wish to comment further.
A solicitor who had acted for the apartment owner in the past did not wish to comment.
Concerns about fire safety in the apartment come on top of broader concerns about fire safety systems in the rest of the building. The building’s residents are not allowed to return to it to live until the removal of a roof over the atrium which was blamed for trapping the smoke, and other fire safety works are done.
Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/fire-flat-building-changes-15-minutes-to-flashover-20120920-269lb.html#ixzz273jRdSJY