Great Britain

Curved windows magnifying sunlight spark high-rise fire in Vancouver, fire department says

A Vancouver highrise fire ignited when sunlight was magnified by a curved wall of windows, according to a city official.

The fire started last Tuesday on the roof of a building on Quebec Street and Fourth Avenue, which was under construction. It spread from the eighth floor to the interior of the structure, no one was injured and the blaze was quickly extinguished.

Trevor Connelly, assistant chief of operations for Vancouver Fire Rescue Services, tweeted: “Last week VFRS responded to a 2nd alarm. Heavy black smoke/flames in foam insulation on the roof. Fire entered the building 8th floor. Hard work/quick action put the fire out quickly. Cause of the fire was magnification of sunlight by a concave shaped wall of windows.”

The tweet included an alarming photo of the damage but Mr Connelly said in an email to CTV News that “these types of incidents are rare, however, it does happen.”

Sunlight sparking apartment fires thanks to curved windows or glass is not an unheard-of phenomenon. In 2014, the 20 Fenchurch skyscraper in London – also known as the Walkie-Talkie tower – magnified light so strongly that it ended up melting nearby cars and shops.

One unfortunate Jaguar owner, Martin Lindsay, told the BBC at the time that his car was “absolutely ruined.”

“You can’t believe something like this would happen,” he said.

While many like Lindsay might seem incredulous – and Mr Connelly emphasised such instances were “rare” – the combination of sunlight and windows or mirrors is more combustible and treacherous than people may think.

In 2019, household and design guru Martha Stewart warned fans online that her home had endured a near-miss while she was on a trip abroad.

“A magnifying makeup mirror, sitting on the back of the toilet, happened to catch the rays [of] the afternoon sun, reflecting them directly onto the painted window sill,” she posted online “The light was so intense that the paint scorched and smoked [and] almost ignited!”

Alex Jones, a home insurance expert at Zurich insurance, told website lovePROPERTY in 2017 that people should “avoid placing glass objects, especially glasses or ornaments, in direct sunlight a they can magnify the sun’s rays and burn soft furnishings.

He added: “It might be a pain, but if you’re out for the day, draw curtains or close blinds to limit sunlight beaming in.”

The phenomenon even made it into the pop culture canon when it featured as a plot point in the sitcom Modern Family when the Dunphy parents accused their children of smoking – only to realise a burn in the sofa had materialised when sunlight through the window had been magnified after passing through an ornament on the family Christmas tree.

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