There were dramatic scenes when experts torched a Glasgow tower block – to find out why New York’s World Trade Centre collapsed when it was hit by hijacked planes. The experiment, filmed for a BBC documentary, was carried out in a 22-floor high-rise in Dalmarnock due for demolition by Glasgow Housing Association.
Experts from Edinburgh University have been at the east end site for around a month preparing the block for the “freeburn” blaze, which was over in just 25 minutes yesterday.
Scientists draped heat sensors over the front of the building to analyse data and record the temperature of the fire.
A “truss” similar to the steel building frame used in the construction of the Twin Towers was also installed on the fourth floor to discover how it would react to flames and intense heat.
Some experts believe the World Trade Centre would not have collapsed on September 11, 2001, if it had been built along more conventional lines.
Glasgow production company Lion Television filmed the event for the Horizon TV programme.
Around 10 cameras, including a cameraman on a 50ft cherry picker, recorded the fire, which was started at 12.10pm.
A crowd of neighbours and onlookers gathered to watch the spectacle at 4 Millerfield Place as the director shouted “Lighting the fire now”, followed by “Please exit the building, the flat’s on fire”.
Within minutes, smoke could be seen filling the two-bedroom flat, which contained a couch, desks, a computer and bookshelves. It seeped through the edge of the windows and billowed out.
Soon the windows could be heard popping as the fire reached temperatures of up to 900C.
A member of the TV crew “said: “They’re cracking, I can hear them cracking.”
At 12.15pm, what appeared to be the seal of the windows melted and floated to the ground, watched closely by a team of 10 Strathclyde firefighters.
Plumes of smoke changed colour from grey to black as the first window shattered, sending glass tumbling to the ground. The acrid smoke filled the air as a window round the corner crashed to the ground.
Minutes later, flames could be seen licking the window frames of the flat and a second window facing the front caved in.
Once the property was fully on fire, a signal was given to fire crews to put out the blaze.
The spectacle was all over by 12.35pm and only the smouldering devastation and blackened windows were left.
Experts will set the tower block on fire again tomorrow, when a second-floor flat, identically set up, will be torched.
However, this flat will be rigged with remote-controlled sensors which will open doors and windows to test the effects of ventilation on the fire.
Jose Torero, a Peruvian professor of fire safety engineering at Edinburgh University, who led the fire experiment after tests on computer models, said: “It didn’t even cross my mind the Twin Towers would collapse.
“We are trying to evaluate the structures which people use to build buildings and to test how fire burns in buildings.”
Three GHA tenants still living in the block have been put up in hotels while filming takes place. They are due to be moved to new accommodation shortly.
The controlled blaze comes after a tower block in Toryglen was sprayed with thousands of litres of coloured paint on Saturday and Sunday.
The empty high-rise was filmed for a TV commercial for a Sony high-definition TV.
A spokesman for Strathclyde Fire and Rescue said of yesterday’s blaze: “We hope as a result of this major experiment Mr Torero and his colleagues will come up with new information about fire behaviour that will save many lives in the future.”
12.10pm: Director announces fire is lit.
12.12: Smoke seen filling the inside of flat.
12.15: Seals on windows float to ground as smoke billows out of flat.
12.20: Glass shatters in first front window, quickly followed by window on the corner.
12.22: Flames seen at front window.
12.24: Fire takes hold around front window frame.
12.26: Second window caves in at front.
12.30: Flames spread round the ledge as smoke fills balcony.
12.35: Fire crews move in to extinguish blaze.
I saw the smoke and the glass flying . . . it was quite dramatic
FORMER resident and mum-of-five Pauline Birrell, 44, of Dalmarnock, watched the blaze with her four-yearold daughter Jade.
She said: “I stayed on the 17th floor for 19 years. It was a great place to live, but they’ve moved me out to a new place on Springfield Road.
“I was quite surprised when I realised it was my old tower block they’d set on fire.
“I saw the smoke and the glass flying – it was quite dramatic.
“If it helps to save lives in the long run and is for a good cause, it can’t be a bad thing.”
Written by Evening Times; Glasgow