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CROSS Safety Report

Thatched roof fire during renovation

Report ID: 1174 Published: 24 May 2023 Region: CROSS-UK


A reporter is concerned about construction practices after a Grade 1 listed church was lost to fire following renovation works on the lead roof.

Key Learning Outcomes

For contractors and thatched property owners or managers:

  • Hot works, i.e. work that involves the use of a naked flame, should not be carried out in the vicinity of a thatched roof
  • Guidance is available, failure to manage the risk of fire may result in total loss of a property and potential enforcement action

Full Report

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The Full Report below has been submitted to CROSS and describes the reporter’s experience. The text has been edited for clarity and to ensure anonymity and confidentiality by removing any identifiable details. If you would like to know more about our secure reporting process or submit a report yourself, please visit the reporting to CROSS-UK page.


The reporter describes how a Grade 1 listed church's lead roof was being renewed following the earlier theft of lead from the roof. The lead was placed adjacent to a thatched element of the roof. The work was undertaken by a sub-contractor.

As the weather was cold, the sub-contractor used a blowtorch to warm the lead to allow it to be unrolled. During this process, the thatch caught alight, which led to a fire that substantially damaged the church.

The thatch was completely lost to the resulting fire, along with most of the roof structure and the contents of the church, including the stained glass windows. There were also serious concerns about the structural integrity of the church tower following the fire.

bodies have introduced a policy of removing hot works from the buildings where possible

Following fires like the one at Uppark in 1986, where the roof was set on fire during renovation works, the Lead Sheet Association and other bodies have introduced a policy of removing hot works from the buildings, where possible, to prevent these issues. A simple alternative is to have a scaffolding platform placed remotely from the roof, upon which hot works can be undertaken.

Fire Risk Assessment

In the case described by the reporter, a simple fire risk assessment should have concluded that using a blowtorch next to a thatch was not a safe thing to do, especially as it had been very dry for the previous months. The thatch was also quite old and dusty. While a hot work permit had been granted by the church inspector for this incident, it is not clear if any conditions made were passed on to the sub-contractors.

The reporter suggests that where hot works which use a naked flame are to be carried out on heritage buildings, the potential consequence of fire needs to be taken into account before a hot work permit is granted. This needs to be addressed, at the very minimum, by a fire risk assessment of the hot works on the roof to be undertaken and a hot work permit should be granted for each instance and use.

The reporter goes on to say that the principles to follow are to remove the work from the roof if possible and to not allow any hot works on the roof. If this is not possible, where repairs are to be made, then individual works need to be risk assessed. Suitable fire extinguishers should also be provided, with the reporter’s opinion being that the provision of a CO2 or Dry Powder extinguishers are unlikely to provide suitable cover on a roof and that aqueous extinguishers are likely to be best. Finally, if hot works are to be undertaken where there is no option other than to do it in situ, then the works should be planned to be done earlier in the day to allow the material to cool and a check, possibly with a thermal imaging camera or similar, should be done before the end of the working day.

Expert Panel Comments

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Expert Panels comment on the reports we receive. They use their experience to help you understand what can be learned from the reports. If you would like to know more, please visit the CROSS-UK Expert Panels page.

This event could have been prevented with sufficient planning and the application of simple control principles. The National Farmers' Union Mutual Insurance Society (NFUMI) guidance referred to in this report covers hot works so should be used as the default reference document for all works involving thatched on or near thatched properties. It should also be remembered that works of this nature would come under the CDM Regulations 2015. The Health and Safety Executive provide guidance on compliance with these regulations. In particular, the creation of a Construction Phase Plan would reinforce the NFUMI guidance.

many thatch properties are located in remote, hard to reach locations, with limited water supplies

It should also be noted that many thatch properties are located in remote, hard to reach locations with limited water supplies, so involving the local fire and rescue service in consultation when planning works could give reassurance (Construction Phase Plan) and allow for additional operational risk information planning.

Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005

Although the information is limited, it appears the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 may apply to some extent, depending on the nature of occupation and use at the time, which would inform who would be the enforcing authority. These works should have been considered in a review of the Responsible Persons fire risk assessment, and where there were multiple Responsible Persons, they should have shared the findings of their respective fire risk assessments to ensure there was no conflict etc.

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