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Investigation of terraced house fire that led to death of two children in Raahe was completed – the Safety Investigation Authority issues four safety recommendations in order to improve fire safety

Published 2.5.2017

A fire broke out in Raahe on the night of 13 September 2016 in a four flat terraced house. Inside the flat in which the fire started was a father with three children, two of whom died in the fire. All the flats in the terraced house were destroyed in the fire. The Safety Investigation Authority gives four safety recommendations in order to improve fire safety, to prevent similar accidents in the future and to minimise damages sustained.

The Safety Investigation Authority recommends that the Finnish premises and construction association and the Confederation of Finnish Construction Industries ensure that their relevant member organisations are notified of the safety issues relating to stoves and seek the appropriate solutions for the problems. A good outcome would be ending the installation of unsafe, out-dated stoves to rental and other flats. At minimum, stoves must have switches that prevent accidental switching on, but preferably they should have induction technology and a stove safety device.

The fire started when a coffee maker, that had been left on top of a stove that was accidentally switched on, caught fire. The stove did not have any safety devices to alert about or put out a fire. Building fires are often caused by overheating of stove that has been forgotten on or switched on accidentally. In fires, flammable materials are often found on top of or close to the stove that should not be there. Almost no attention is paid to preventing risks caused by unusual use in the safety standards for stoves. In addition, automated fire extinguishing systems which, according to studies, are an efficient way of preventing fire fatalities, are not mandatory in Finland.

The Safety Investigations Authority recommends that The Ministry of the Interior ensures trough legislation and guidelines, and safety communications with various stakeholders that the number of smoke alarms installed in homes clearly exceeds the current minimum requirement. In general, smoke alarms must be installed in all rooms and exit routes in a residence.

There are uncertainty factors relating to the reliability of smoke alarms and waking up to their sound. The smoke alarm in the flat's kitchen did not have a battery, and it is not known whether the other smoke alarm in the flat worked or not. Studies show that children rarely wake up to the sound of a smoke alarm or the noises caused by fire. The father was intoxicated, which studies have shown to reduce the ability to react to the sound of smoke alarm. Apparently, intoxication was also a contributing factor to not noticing that the stove had been accidentally switched on. Alcohol use is very common in Finland, and people are not aware of all the risks associated with it.

The Safety Investigation Authority also recommends that the Ministry of the Environment supplements the fire safety provisions concerning new and renovated houses and terraced houses with a requirement according to which bedrooms must have a window with a fixed handle that can be opened from the inside and used as an exit in emergencies.

A window with fixed handles that can be opened from the inside would have made it vitally easier for the two older children to get out of the bedroom. Installing a window that can be easily opened from the inside and used as an emergency exit in bedrooms is not required in building regulations. In a fire, breaking a solid window is very difficult, dangerous and slow, which was also shown by the 2009 investigation of the house fire that led to the death of five young people in Naantali.

Furthermore, the Safety Investigation Authority recommends that the Ministry of the Environment supplements the fire safety provisions so that they will address the risk of fire spreading outside the building via eaves and shelters.

Long open eaves had been constructed for the house in connection with renovating the roof, and they prevented flames and fire gases from discharging away from the building. The long eaves made it easier for the fire to spread sideways. The risk of fire spreading associated with long eaves is not recognised in building regulations.

YouTube video of experimental investigation of burning behaviour:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kxe8JjfH1Y4

Further information:
Kai Valonen, Chief Safety Investigator, tel. +358 (0)295 150 707, kai.valonen@om.fi (@KValonen, Twitter)
Sakari Lauriala, Head of Communications, tel. +358 (0)295 150 714, sakari.lauriala@om.fi, (@SakariLauriala, Twitter)