AN investigation into the safety of an estimated 2,000 houses across Barnsley has been launched as a result of a devastating fire on the hottest day on record which gutted a row of homes, the Chronicle can reveal.
The charred structures, on Woodland Drive, off Broadway, were demolished after the blaze which raged during the 40C heatwave on July 19.
The houses known as Hawthorn Leslie ‘non-traditional’ builds were built between 1964 and 1979 but only use minimal brickwork for aspects such as semi-detached partition walls and instead have steel frames and cladding.
Residents spoke of the desperation they felt as flames tore through gardens before spreading to six homes five of which were burnt to the ground, seriously damaging the other two in ultra-fast time due to the heat and breeze.
A probe into its cause concluded it was an accidental fire and sparked in a shed, but the wood and plastic-type materials which clad the housing acted as accelerants.
However, the Chronicle understands there are about 2,000 homes deemed of ‘non-traditional’ build across the borough and Coun Peter Fielding, who represents the Dodworth ward, revealed expert consultants have been drafted in to undertake a fire safety review as a result of the Woodland Drive incident.
“After the terrifying house fires on Woodland Drive where fire spread rapidly between buildings and caused the total destruction of five homes, it was understandable that many tenants of similar houses expressed serious concerns about the fire safety of their homes,” he said.
“While there is no evidence that fire safety is an issue in these properties, it is entirely reasonable for tenants to seek reassurance about their safety.
“I raised this issue with Berneslai Homes and I am pleased to learn that they have now commissioned a national expert consultancy to undertake a review of the fire safety of this type of property.
“I have previously raised my concerns about the need to reassure residents about the fire resilience of these houses following the fire.
“It is not good enough just to say that they meet certain regulatory standards if they are inadequate as proved the case at Grenfell.”
Less than two weeks after the fire, ruling cabinet members approved almost £3m to boost fire safety with more smoke and carbon monoxide alarms across the council’s 18,000-strong property portfolio.
But it’s the cladding that remains of concern to tenants, according to Coun Fielding, who called on the findings of the investigation to be made public as soon as possible.
“It is important that this review will be independent in order to give the level of reassurance that tenants deserve and to inform Berneslai Homes of any remedial measures needed,” he said.
“I hope this review will be carried out and published as soon as possible as I understand there are 2,000 non-traditional homes with Berneslai Homes.”
Arturo Gulla, executive director of property services at Berneslai Homes, said: “Since the devastating fires that took place last month on Woodland Drive, we’ve been working alongside Barnsley Council to support the six households affected.
“We’ve seen a huge community response and would like to thank people for their kindness and goodwill.
“I’d like to reassure people that the houses affected in the Woodland Drive fire were not wood-cladded.
“They were steel frame properties, with composite formed sheets on the ground floor and aluminium weatherboarding on the first floor.
“These meet all fire safety requirements and legislation.
“Safety is our highest priority and we’ve commissioned expert consultants who will do a full property survey to decide if there’s any additional action we can take to improve fire safety, beyond our existing precautions.
“On these properties we’re also bringing forward our planned activity to install additional smoke and CO2 alarms to meet the legislation coming into force in October regardless of tenure.”