Owners of Cold Storage Warehouses may think they have nothing to fear from fire with temperatures between their frozen shelves typically between 4℃ and -28℃. How can fire burn in a place so cold?

Well, anyone who’s held an ice block long enough in their hand can know that cold and hot aren’t so far apart as they first imagined. But actual fire in a giant freezer, is a reality that many overlook. 

This oversight is costly, however, since cold storage fires are in fact one of the most problematic. A business using cold storage is likely to be storing foods and pre-packed products which are perishable and sensitive to contamination from smoke and ash. Additionally, cold storage fires are a hazard difficult for the fire brigade or conventional extinguishing systems to control.

Huge cold distribution warehouse with high empty shelves

Here Are 4 Ways Fire Burns in the Cold

The extreme cold produces dry air

With temperatures reaching far into the negatives comes an increase in low air humidity levels. The air becomes drier because all the moisture is frozen into ice. Dry air itself cannot cause a fire, but it is a great catalyst to intensify the slightest spark resulting from cable breaks, technical defects in refrigeration units or vacuum packaging equipment, and overheating conveyor motors.

Cold storage materials and spacing spread fire quickly

Refrigeration facilities are laced with insulation materials such as wool or Styrofoam. Pre-packaged products are wrapped in plastic while wooden pallets are used as narrowly spaced shelves. All this material is easily set alight, causing fire to spread quickly.

Smoke overwhelms firefighters’ vision

Since the freezer or refrigeration system have insulated walls and ceilings, heat and smoke from a fire are trapped inside. Smoke production in cold storage fires increase so rapidly that it is nearly impossible for firefighters to vent out the smoke and heat. This results in zero visibility and increases the risk for any firefighter to enter.

Ice plugs can render poorly designed sprinklers to fail

Normal sprinkler systems are impractical in cold storage areas. Thus, specially designed double-interlock pre-action sprinkler systems were invented, but even these could fail in the extreme cold conditions. Ice plugs are the combination of moisture remaining in the air to accumulate in the opening on a sprinkler. When the system is triggered, the water will be blocked from releasing over the fire below.

While sprinkler systems can be well-designed to prevent ice plugs, low fire detection maintenance is still an issue that may result in ice plugs forming anyway.

How Can You Fight Cold Storage Fires?

Once the fire has begun, the difficulties to put it out may be too dangerous. Oftentimes, the fire is simply contained as much as possible within the cold storage area and allowed to burn out on its own. The best way your business can fight cold storage fires is by preventing them in the first place.

Minerva Technologies is specialised in the correct application of Fire Detection for cold storage areas. Contact us at info@mintech.co.za to find out how you can safeguard against cold storage fires.