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Arson Prevention: 3 Tips That Could Save Your Warehouse



Warehouse fires are commonplace. What is surprising is that arson accounts for nearly 18% of the warehouse fires in the US, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Arson is the leading cause of warehouse fires in the US and is responsible for 32% of the direct property damage in warehouse properties. It is also one of the most difficult cases to solve and prosecute.

The costs of warehouse fires varies from about $729 million in 2014 US property losses and about 1.7bn pounds annually in the UK (Building Engineer, March 2014, Cost of Warehouse Fires to UK PLC – One Billion Pounds). Whilst some of this research is across all types of property, a number of high-profile fires in the US and UK were deliberately set:

  • A man in Columbus, Ohio was arrested and charged with a first- degree felony, aggravated arson, for starting a warehouse fire which destroyed about 80 percent of the building. While no one was injured, the destruction put dozens of people out of work, forced two schools to be closed for the day, required between 50-100 firefighters to fight the blaze, and the total losses are expected to be in the millions.

  • A Wisconsin man faced an arson charge in a 2015 warehouse fire which fire crews battled for more than two days and destroyed the building that housed his own business a week after police say he increased his business liability insurance policy. The arsonist is facing both state and federal charges, include insurance fraud.


  • An unhappy employee was arrested for deliberately setting fire to a US-based furniture warehouse. The fire raged out of control and swept through the 325,000 square-foot building. Flames could be seen for miles and it took more than 100 firefighters about 7 hours to get the blaze under control. Damages were estimated at $70 million. 


  • Before Christmas in the UK, a clothing e-retailer’s employee took advantage of advanced knowledge that the sprinkler system would be down for repair to set a devastating fire. Nearly 70% of the e-retailer’s stock was compromised by the fire and the failure of the facility’s sprinkler system. Because the company did not have a business continuity plan, it was out of business. 




...having a pre-emergency plan that involves calling the fire service promptly and checking that the installed sprinkler protection is working effectively are critical."


Adding to the cost of arson in warehouses is the fact that property damage figures do not include indirect costs, such as business interruption, value of commodities stored, logistics or supply chain disruption. As warehouses have become centralized nodes in an extensive supply chain, disruption by arson and fires can be much more costly.   (Read more about potential supply chain disruption in an article by XL Catlin’s Martin Vinkenflügel and Pascal Matthey, Wake Up Call for Global Supply Chains.) 

How to reduce the risk of arson and the severity of warehouse fires
Warehouses vary in size, types of materials stored, design, storage configurations, construction, technologies, ceiling heights and other factors that present special challenges for fire protection. Further, the content and layout of warehouses are extremely conducive to fire spread and present obstacles to manual fire suppression efforts, according to the NFPA.

At XL Catlin, our Property Risk Engineering/GAPS team focuses on loss prevention every day. From our experience, there are a number of property loss prevention measures that commercial property owners can take to reduce the likelihood or severity of a deliberately-set fire occurring.  These measures can be broadly spilt into the categories of designing against arson and reducing the risks once a fire has started.

Tip#1: Security 
To design against arson, from a property loss prevention point of view, the key item is security, encompassing both physical and electronic security measures. The first thing is to control entry to the location and thus reduce the opportunity for a fire to be started. Enforcement of adequate premises security measures should also include strong doors and windows, fencing and lighting, intrusion and fire detection alarms. Rubbish, trash or waste is the item that first ignited in 12% of warehouse fires in the US. Reasonable housekeeping standards plus monitoring of fire and security systems and managing employee access could stop many, if not most, juvenile and adult arsonists.

Tip#2: Sprinkler/Fire Detection Systems 
The installation of adequate and reliable suppression systems such as sprinklers and fire detection and alarms systems is highly recommended for property loss control purposes.  Sprinkler design should match the fire hazard. It was discovered that factories storing aerosols had to modify sprinkler designs because of combustible contents made the fires worse. Management of the suppression systems is extremely important to make sure the systems work effectively when needed. It is vital to keep the systems adequately maintained, in service and not impaired.

Tip#3: Background Checks
As seasonal workers are hired for the holiday period, criminal background checks become even more important. Long-term loss history shows that some employee-arsonists had previous criminal records for arson. Employee threats should also be taken seriously. Minor grievances can escalate into arson revenge attacks if the employee feels that they are not being treated fairly. In one case, an employee called the warehouse manager and threatened to burn down the facility. The threat was ignored and the employee proceeded to do exactly that. Burn down the warehouse.

Prevention is the key
Including these property loss control items may not prevent a determined arsonist from setting a fire, but these measures should minimize the opportunity and may reduce the damage and disruption after the event.

Additionally, having a pre-emergency plan that involves calling the fire service promptly and checking that the installed sprinkler protection is working effectively are critical. The plan should also include checking that sprinkler valves are open, pumps are working, fire doors are shut and that fire fighters can be directed to the area of the fire. In addition, it’s important that the local firefighters understand the facility and what is stored or manufactured at the facility. Finally, ensure that sprinklers are not switched off prematurely or that the use of high volume fans for venting purposes is managed carefully. (For more on venting, see To Vent or Not to Vent, an article by XL Catlin’s John Frank) The plan should also include ensuring your Business Continuity Management system has been tested and is up to date. The more planning completed before an event, the greater the likelihood of minimizing property loss during the event.  

For further details on how to prevent arson, please contact Jonathan Salter, +44 20 7458 5847,

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