London Fire Commissioner: Holborn Fire Not Deliberately Set
The London Fire Brigade investigative team's analysis dispels speculation that jewel thieves set the blaze in central London to cover their tracks.
London Fire Commissioner Ron Dobson announced the findings of an investigation into the April 2 Holborn fire, saying the London Fire Brigade's investigative team concluded the fire started due to an electrical fault in the Victorian tunnels running underneath the Kingsway,a major road in central London. This damaged an 8-inch gas main, which ruptured and fueled the fire. Investigators found that the 10-foot-deep tunnel was well maintained, and there was no sign of arson -- dispelling speculation in the press that jewel thieves had started the fire to cover up their crime.
The fire was difficult to access and extinguish. Dobson praised residents and business people's patience while firefighters dealt with the fire, which he said demonstrates how complex London's environment can be. Most of Kingsway had reopened to residents, businesses, and pedestrians by April 9, but vehicle traffic remained restricted on the road.
"This technically difficult fire shows just how complex London can be and how unseen risks underneath the capital can significantly affect businesses, residents, and the day-to-day running of parts of the capital," Dobson said. "We've done a lot of work educating people about how they can prevent risks in their home, and this has led to people being safer than ever from fire. But this fire shows clearly that there are still hidden risks in London which make the role of a 21st century London firefighter so varied and show why it is absolutely necessary that our training is amongst the best in the world. Thankfully large underground fires like this one, which have such a wide impact, are very rare and seldom cause injuries."
He said a National Police Air Service helicopter used an infrared camera to locate the fire's main hot spots, which was invaluable help for the firefighters on the ground and senior officers in command of the incident. The brigade also deployed a London police robot in the tunnel to provide information on how firefighters could gain access to the fire.
"We discussed a number of plans which included using high-expansion foam, but as there was no compartmentation in the tunnels, there was no way of knowing where the foam would go and what structural damage it may have caused," Dobson explained. "As the gas leak was fueling the fire, it was much safer to contain it while the escaping gas was burning off. If the fire had been put out before it was isolated, it could have resulted in a buildup of gas over a wide area, leading to possible explosions." He added that the fire response "showed the value of multi-agency working to deal with a significant incident that impacted London, safely and without injuries."