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Storage areas frequently present risks of fire. Taking the time to examine and organize the storage areas in your building or place of business is an effective way of preventing fire and minimizing damage.

Storage rooms, lockers, stockrooms and warehouses all represent a higher risk of fire. They often house combustible objects and materials that could be dangerous if not organized properly.

Three main factors determine the risk of fire in a storage area:

  1. Combustibility of goods
  2. Maximum storage height
  3. Storage method

To determine fire protection needs, especially sprinkler requirements, you must first assess the fire hazards associated with the goods you store and the packaging used.

5 preventive measures to protect storage spaces

A storage locker is a room that provides additional space for overstock goods or belongings not used every day. Because these areas usually contain a building’s largest fire risk, it’s a good idea to take action with the following preventive measures:

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Furniture, mattresses, wooden objects, cardboard boxes, plastic items—these are all potentially flammable things commonly found in storage lockers. Make sure to keep a minimum clearance between stored goods and heat sources such as lightbulbs and heating vents. Never store flammable liquids or gases like propane, as they represent a dangerous risk of explosion. Limit the number of vehicle tires in storage areas. It’s a very good idea to hang a list of rules near the entrance to a storage area and include it in leases or agreements.

Fires in storage areas can be caused intentionally (vandalism, arson, etc.) or by accident. Prevent fire risks by making sure only authorized people have access to these areas.

Section 9.10.10.6 - Storage Rooms of the National Building Code of Canada stipulates that shared storage rooms must be separated from the rest of the building by a fire door with a resistance of at least 1 hour (45 minutes if protected by sprinklers).

Approved smoke detectors (not to be confused with fire alarms) will quickly detect a fire outbreak and trigger the alarm, making it possible to respond immediately, typically before the first flames appear.

An approved sprinkler system with an adequate, reliable water source is the best way to properly control fire outbreaks in storage areas.

Fire risks in back offices and stockrooms

The risk of fire is also high in shopping centres and stores, especially in stock rooms. Sources of fire include:

  • Defective or damaged electrical wiring
  • Faulty or overheated electrical equipment and appliances (including refrigeration and air conditioning units)
  • Sparks (short circuits, work that involves open flames, etc.)
  • Smoking

The intensity of a fire will also depend on the combustibility of the objects in the area. An auto body shop that houses car tires, rubber timing belts and combustible liquids, for example, is at much greater risk of being damaged by fire than an organic food store. The height at which objects are stored is also a factor to pay attention to. Objects placed on high shelves can allow flames to spread upward very quickly.

Higher risks in warehouses that store raw materials and finished products

Major fires with serious consequences are more likely to occur in warehouses that store raw materials or finished products than in any other part of a factory or place of business. Four factors account for the higher risk:

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Since valuable items are often stored in the warehouse, a warehouse fire can result in major financial loss for the business. Having adequate insurance will certainly help, but the time it takes to rebuild and restock could cause you to lose business to competitors.

The items in storage areas may not necessarily be combustible; however, they’re often packaged for transportation purposes or to protect them from accidental damage. Packaging made of paper, straw or cardboard can represent the highest volume of combustible material in an entire warehouse.

Newer storage spaces often include high shelving units, as tall as 30 meters. Traditional sprinkler systems are not adapted to taller warehouses, in which flames could spread upward very quickly. In cases like this, water from ceiling-mounted sprinklers could evaporate before even reaching the source of the fire.

Pallets are used to facilitate handling, but they create horizontal air channels between stacks of merchandise. It’s difficult for water droplets from ceiling sprinklers to reach these hidden areas. Full shelves on storage units are a major obstacle, as they can prevent water from ceiling sprinklers from reaching flames, causing the fire to spread quickly closer to the ground.

In conclusion

Ignition sources that may occasionally be tolerated in certain locations must be categorically eliminated from warehouses with a high fire risk.

The main causes of fire in storage areas are:

  • Poorly maintained spaces
  • People smoking
  • Forklifts
  • Hot work (welding, soldering, etc.)
  • Arson
  • Defective electrical equipment

Today, warehouse fires are usually controlled by automatic sprinkler systems. It’s therefore essential to have a sprinkler system that is appropriate for the type or merchandise, storage methods and storage height in your place of business.


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In collaboration with
JEAN-JACQUES FOURNEL, safety expert

The information in this fact sheet is of a general nature and is provided for information purposes only. It is not exhaustive. Any action taken after reading the fact sheet should be carried out safely, and, if necessary, by an experienced and authorized person.

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