Towering inferno

Fire investigations help us understand why fires start and how they can be prevented, but also how we can build safer buildings. Find out how laser scanning technology provided important information after a major incident on the Channel Island of Jersey.

Fire breaks out at a gas storage tank
Fire breaks out at a gas storage tank

In summer 2012, repairs were being made on a gas storage tank in Saint Helier, Jersey when a fire broke out. It rapidly grew in intensity and the emergency services, who were quickly on the scene, declared it a major incident.

The fire and rescue service immediately set about preventing the fire from spreading and then had to determine the best course of action for extinguishing it. The police set up road closures and started evacuating hundreds of people from the surrounding houses, schools and business premises. Two maintenance staff, who had been working on the gas tank, were injured and received treatment locally.

It was decided to let the gas burn off in a controlled manner under the supervision of the fire and rescue service. The blaze was finally extinguished early the following morning allowing people to return to their homes and businesses.

An initial examination of the structure revealed that it was so badly damaged that it would need to be decommissioned and dismantled. Before this, a full survey of the area would need to be done to record the damage caused by the fire. The unstable nature of the gas tank prevented physical measurement, but the States of Jersey Police were able to use their Topcon GLS-1500 3D laser scanner to safely carry out a detailed survey of the structure. They also captured data outlining the surrounding area with a view to later de-briefing and training the emergency services.

Mark Johnson, lead Fire Investigator from States of Jersey Fire and Rescue Service said. "Fire investigation remains the key to understanding fire. It enables us to learn how to prevent and respond to fires better, how to build safer buildings and understand why a fire occurred. A good quality fire investigation can help save lives and play a major role in protecting businesses from risk. The data capture Topcon provided greatly assisted in our investigation."

The gas tank was dismantled but the detailed data collected by the laser scanner has provided a permanent record of every aspect of the damaged tank and surrounding area. This will be used during the on-going enquiry to determine the cause of the fire and in training for major incidents.

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