A large fire occurred yesterday at Hove Town Hall caused by a faulty solar panel on the roof of the building. No-one was hurt. Locals have been quick to take aim at the Green party with jibes over their record in office at Brighton and Hove city council, which owns the building.
The fire started in the early afternoon, sending up billowing clouds of thick black smoke which could be seen from miles around. Firemen were in attendance shortly after 1pm, and were able to extinguish the flames within the hour.
George Dalmon, who was in Hove Town Hall at the time of the fire told the Brighton Argus: “There was big black smoke billowing out, it looks quite major. Everyone has been evacuated out of the building. Somebody said something about it being a solar panel.”
A woman passer-by told reporters: “There’s lots of acrid smoke which is so bad that lots of passers-by are covering their mouths. The smoke seemed to be coming from the back of the building. You can see the smoke from at least half a mile away. It’s thick black smoke, it’s got to be quite a substantial fire.”
A spokesman for Brighton and Hove City Council said the Town Hall is currently undergoing renovations, and that consequently only a few staff and building contractors were inside at the time. They added that everyone was evacuated immediately with no casualties.
“The source of the fire is believed to be an electrical fault with a solar panel on the roof,” they said, adding “An investigation is underway. Brighton & Hove City Council will check all solar panels on all council buildings following this incident.”
The spokesman confirmed that all their solar panels are checked annually, with the most recent check taking place only a few weeks ago.
Commenting on the panels, a spokesman for East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service (ESF&RS), Stuart Black, told the BBC that solar panels are no more dangerous than any other electrical item. “Anything electrical can develop a fault through any number of reasons
“We will investigate if that particular brand has had any incidents of fires throughout the UK but I am not aware of any at the moment,” he said.
However, that advice was contradicted during a recent article on solar panels and fire safety by Andy O’Leary, business development manager at Sibert Solar (h/t Bishop Hill), who told Solar Power Portal “In contrast to the power used by conventional mains electrical equipment, the power that PV systems generate is DC (direct current) and parts of the system cannot be switched off. DC installations have a continuous current, making them more hazardous (volt for volt) than normal AC (alternating current) electrical installations.”
O’Leary said that solar panels present numerous additional challenges to firefighters, with the result that buildings fitted with solar panels are sometimes left to simply burn out rather than be tackled in the event of a fire.
“Whilst the danger of an actual DC electric shock is considered minimal (certain specific circumstances must be in place for this to be a real danger), the fact remains that, from a risk assessment point of view, the fire service often struggle with the level of uncertainty that the solar PV system can present to them.
“Firefighters need to consider the additional roof loading of the array, especially when the purlins/rafters etc. are fire-damaged or water-laden. They also need to consider the fact that DC string cables may be running down through the property from a system that, during daylight hours, is producing voltages anywhere between 400VDC to 1000VDC, and currents between 1A and 10A, depending on the nature of the installation and the irradiance present.
“Furthermore, solar PV modules are manufactured to include a number of potentially hazardous chemicals and materials which may be released as a side-effect of the fire damage. All of these considerations, and more, can lead to the fire service deciding that the level of risk and uncertainty is too high to justify dealing with the property fire at all – resulting in some instances where properties have been literally left to burn out.”
Meanwhile in Brighton, locals mocked the irony of the Green party’s only town hall being set alight by a solar panel just weeks before the next council elections.
Argus reader Martha Gunn commented “Didn’t think the Green Party would take scorched earth policy quite that far! Or did they leave the microwave on again?”
Benny Duncan-Jarrs said “Just typical of the greens. Probably created the most pollution over their tenure than any other party anywhere. Added to the fumes from congested traffic this makes for a perfect swansong for them as they exit Brighton once and for all – Roll on May.”
An anonymous reader joked “A Green party spokesman said ‘it was the wrong sort of sun’ today.”
While another mused “Greens burning the accounts before the next council takes over and alerts the fraud squad?”