A $1.5 million fire experiment to test whether school buildings are safe

By Motoko Kakubayashi 24/02/2012

Spending more than a million dollars on building a school and then burning it down doesn’t sound logical, but to a group of Japanese scientists it sounded very logical.

These scientists wanted to test how fire-resistant school buildings made from wood were, and the only way to do so was to build their own three-storey high school and burn it down.  They needed to test whether there would be enough time for students to evacuate from the building in the event of a fire, how could the fire spread, and how long could it take for the entire building to collapse.

It’s all part of a process to help re-build the forestry industry.  There’s growing support for wooden buildings in Japan, but the problem is the rules for building a three-storey public school are so strict it’s slowing progress right down.  The government has said they want to ease these laws, but no one knows what’s safe to change.

So a group of scientists working for Japan’s National Institute for Land and Infrastructure Management have been asked to find the problems with building a school out of wood, and find out how to make it safer.

Their NZ$1.5 million experiment on Wednesday had showed it took less than two hours for the entire building to collapse, which was considered not too bad.  Now the scientists will try and make an improved school building, which they’ll burn down next year.

Just FYI, the room they set fire to first was the staff room.

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