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Scottish fire service nears end of ‘formidable’ investigation into Mack fire


The investigation into the major fire that destroyed most of the Glasgow School of Art a year ago has moved into its ’final phases’, according to Scottish fire chiefs.

More than 120 firefighters battled to extinguish the blaze when it tore through the landmark Mackintosh building at 11.19pm on June 15 last year.

The fire hit as the Mack was nearing the end of a £35 million restoration following a previous fire at the A-listed building in 2014.

A year on, the cause of the second blaze remains unknown. However, the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) has said its investigation is now finally entering its final phases.

It has pulled 400 tonnes of debris from the crumbled building and fully examined two of its sectors.

The final phases will see the removal of more debris, with the fire service saying this phase of work will ’take some further time to complete’.

As part of the investigation, the fire service has also searched through hundreds of hours of CCTV footage and taken witness statements.

Ross Haggart, director of prevention and protection at the fire service said the cultural significance of the Glasgow School of Art had been at the ‘forefront of our minds’ throughout the ‘formidable investigation’.

He added: ‘The damage to the Mackintosh Building was far greater than the fire incident in 2014, and the impact on the building has complicated the investigative process.

‘Nonetheless, a number of detailed examinations at key areas of the site have been undertaken following the removal of 400 tonnes of fire debris.

‘But a significant volume of fire debris remains within the site and we will work alongside the on-site contractors to have this removed with a view to undertaking further examinations.

‘The fire investigation remains focused on likely origin and cause – but against the backdrop of an unprecedented large-scale fire scene within a complex and challenging site.

‘Our fire investigation team is working hard based on what remains within the building once the debris is removed, alongside all other evidence available to them.’

In May 2014, the school’s Mackintosh Library was gutted when propellant gases from a canister of expanding foam – being used by a student in the building’s north basement – were sucked into a home cinema-style projector.

Although the fire spread through ventilation ducts and behind timber-lined walls to the library, firefighters managed to save 90 per cent of the Art Nouveau masterpiece.

SOURCE: SCOTTISH FIRE AND RESCUE SERVICE
First Mackintosh fire – May 2014

Earlier this year, a Scottish parliamentary committee called for a full public inquiry into the two separate fires.

The Culture Committee’s report, published in March, criticised the GSA’s custodianship of the ‘national treasure’, saying the school did not give sufficient priority to safeguarding it.

It followed a series of hearings by the committee during which the GSA board was repeatedly accused of failing to address the heightened risk of fire to the Mack.

However the GSA has defended its record, arguing the MSPs report contained many ‘factual inaccuracies’ and that the committee had failed to distinguish between the art school’s control of the building during its refurbishment, and the role of Keir Construction, its main contractor.

14 JUNE 2019 BY ELLA JESSEL  THE ARCHITECTS’  JOURNAL