At its peak, nearly 30 appliances and around 150 firefighters battled the major blaze at the New Zealand International Convention Centre in Auckland last year – Fire and Emergency New Zealand investigators have found the cause was accidental
Fire investigation report released for NZICC
Fire and Emergency New Zealand (FENZ) investigators have found the cause of the New Zealand International Convention Centre (NZICC) fire in Auckland’s city centre on 22 October last year was accidental.
The NZICC was under construction at the time of the fire. At its peak nearly 30 appliances and around 150 firefighters battled the major blaze which took 10 days to fully extinguish.
Fire and Emergency Te Hiku region manager Ron Devlin says: “The official investigation into the cause and origin of the fire found it was inadvertently caused when the top layers of a waterproofing membrane – or cap sheet – were being laid on the roof of the convention centre. Our investigators concluded the fire started after the cardboard inner of a cap sheet roll was momentarily exposed to a flame from a worker’s gas torch and began to smoulder.
After smouldering unnoticed inside the roll, an intense fire developed that burnt through the top layer of the cap sheet, and then spread across the level 7 roof membrane.”
Fletcher Construction expects recovery work from the fire to take several more months before major construction work can begin again
Mr Devlin says FENZ eliminated anecdotal speculation at the time that an inexperienced contractor caused the fire by leaving a blowtorch going, prior to leaving the area for lunch. “This did not happen. Our investigators found all gas bottles around the origin of the fires were turned off for the lunch break. There were no inexperienced contractors working in the area at the time.”
Mr Devlin says it is a significant step forward to have the cause and origin report completed. “The NZICC fire was a complex and dangerous fire, and we have been focused on ensuring the investigation into its cause was comprehensive and accurately reflected what occurred on the afternoon of 22 October.
“An independent peer review agreed with our findings. We can now confirm the cause of the fire was accidental and we hope this will assist in the organisations involved to move forward.”
Methodical and systematic process
Fletcher Construction chief executive Peter Reidy has welcomed the report and says: “We are grateful for the detailed review undertaken by FENZ and the findings in the report. There was a lot of speculation in the days following the fire, but, as we said at the time, investigations require a methodical and systematic process to determine the cause.
“Our own investigators have come to a similar conclusion to FENZ – that the source of the fire was the inadvertent ignition of the cardboard centre of a roll of waterproofing membrane. We are pleased that the origin and cause of the fire has been determined and that FENZ confirms that the fire was accidental.”
Mr Reidy says it should be noted that the waterproofing membrane is an extremely common product with a common application process across the industry. “The subcontractors working on the roof of the NZICC had 40 years’ experience between them, were employed by one of the two largest specialist roofing membrane installers in Auckland, and the firm was approved by the product manufacturer.
Fletcher Construction chief executive Peter Reidy: “The damage we found inside the building was significant”
“As with all major construction firms, we rely on subcontractors for specialist works when dealing with a project of this size and complexity. We were pleased with our safety processes on the day, including the safe evacuation of 550 workers in less than 30 minutes from the site.”
While the FENZ investigation has been underway, Fletcher Construction has undertaken a thorough review of torch-on roofing membrane processes across its sites and run facilitated workshops with frontline workers. Mr Reidy says FENZ’s report is a valuable contribution to be considered by the industry as a whole, as part of the industry’s continuous safety focus.
However, in a statement released by MPM Waterproofing, the company says it has reviewed the report and believes it contains a considerable number of factual inaccuracies, and has voiced its concern to FENZ about the content of the report and the accuracy of the conclusions made in it.
“MPM Waterproofing takes the view that it would be appropriate for FENZ to retract the report while further consideration is given to MPM Waterproofing’s concerns and the matter is the subject of further investigation,” it says.
While MPM has reached the views outlined, it acknowledges that in the limited time available it has not had an opportunity to provide a more detailed explanation of the causes for its concern, and so it does not wish to make further comment at this point in time. In conjunction with its legal advisor it is continuing to analyse the report and to prepare to outline more fully the reasons for its concerns.
MPM Waterproofing is one of the longest-standing waterproofing and torch-on membrane businesses in New Zealand. A number of its management and senior staff have in excess of 20 years’ experience in torch-on membrane operations, involving tens of thousands of individual contracts. The company’s record for safety in all respects, including fire-related issues, is second to none in the country.
Recovery work continues
Recovery from the fire is expected to take several more months before major construction work can begin again. Mr Reidy says damage caused by the fire in the near-complete convention centre has been extremely complex to deal with and simply preparing for the rebuild has taken months of work.
“The damage we found inside the building was significant. The fire affected secondary steel that supports the roof and holds up key elements of equipment. Areas of the facade adjacent to the roof may need to be replaced. If this is the case, it will require 12 to 14 months of work by the specialist glass manufacturer who is in the United States.
“There has been extensive water damage throughout the building which, combined with the summer heat, has created conditions for mould. That requires the replacement of many of the services and fittings that were installed and has restricted normal access to the site,” Mr Reidy says. “We also need to clean residues from the fire from large parts of the building.
“We are going to commit significant resources to the project, and will keep all of our stakeholders updated on our progress throughout 2020.”
The NZICC Fire Investigation Report can be downloaded from the Fire and Emergency New Zealand website.