Banned canister blamed for Glasgow Art School fire

The fire raged through the iconic Mackintosh building in May. Picture: John Devlin
The fire raged through the iconic Mackintosh building in May. Picture: John Devlin
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THE fire that gutted Glasgow School of Art’s Mackintosh Building was started by gases from a canister of expanding foam used in a student project, a fire investigation has confirmed.

The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) report said the gases ignited as they came into contact with the hot surface of a projector in Studio 19 in the basement. It has emerged use of the foam had been prohibited by the school.

The findings, released yesterday, concluded a build-up of “flammable propellant gases” in a projector was the source of the blaze on 23 May.

The projector was not faulty but the presence of original ventilation ducts and a large number of timber-lined walls in the building contributed to the rapid spread of the fire, the report concluded.

A new fire suppression system was in the latter stages of completion at the institution but was not operational on the day of the blaze in the Charles Rennie Mackintosh-designed building, which destroyed its iconic library, and the works of final-year students preparing for their degree show.

The canister of foam was being used by an unnamed student despite, according to GSA director Professor Tom Inns, being prohibited by the school.


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The fire spread when flames caught foam panelling, which formed part of an exhibition piece and was pinned to the wall directly behind the projector.

A member of staff fought to put the fire out with an extinguisher, but was forced to evacuate. The flames then spread through the building eventually breaching the roof.

The report, which was released by the school, stated: “Fire was caused when flammable gases used as a propellant within a canister of expanding foam [were] discharged in close proximity to the projector. These flammable gases were drawn into the projector cooling fan. The SFRS report has ruled out ignition being caused by this equipment being defective and SFRS could find no evidence to suggest it did not operate as the manufacturers intended.”

In pictures: Glasgow School of Art fire

Prof Inns said that the building had been “totally compliant” with fire regulations at the time.

“We have health and safety policies and guidelines, and one of the key things within that is that we shouldn’t have aerosols within the studios,” he said. “So there was something going that wasn’t kind of compliant with the policies of the school. We use projectors a lot, all sorts of organisations use projectors, there are quite clear guidelines on how they are used but within the accident, it’s these things that came together to cause the initial ignition that caused the fire.

“There are a huge number of lessons that can be learned and we’ve been working very hard over the last six months on our health and safety procedures, training and so on. The report is very detailed about how the fire spread and that gives us a lot of new knowledge that we need to take on board.”

Art school bosses say progress is being made on plans to restore the building. An appeal fund has raised £12 million, including pledges from the UK and Scottish governments, and secured Brad Pitt and GSA alumnus Peter Capaldi as trustees.


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