Nobody Knows For Sure What Caused That Massive Telstra Exchange Fire

Remember that huge fire that claimed the Warrnambool Telstra exchange? Senator Stephen Conroy's department has just released a report into the blaze that left over 60,000 people in a communications lurch, which shows that there is still no concrete explanation of what started the fire. We can guess, however.

There's no overarching consensus in the report of how the fire really started, despite four separate reports being prepared:

A number of views were presented on the actual point and cause of ignition; however, due to the extensive damage caused by the fire, these could not be identified with certainty.

According to reports prepared for the inquiry by Telstra and fire investigators, the fire was likely due to an electrical fault in the roof:

It appears most probable that the fire was caused by an electrical fault, or the failure or malfunction of an electrical item, in or near the maintenance control room – either in the ceiling space or in the room itself. The fire then most probably spread along the cable insulation in the ceiling space and room areas, with dripping, burning insulation igniting other flammable materials below...

There were also reports of hazardous materials being set alight by the fire:

The fire appeared to be further advanced than would have been expected at the time of the CFA’s arrival. One possible explanation is that the fire started in the roof space, but remained undetected because there were no smoke detectors in the roof, only in the rooms below. Additionally, it was noted that the age of the building and the materials used in its construction (including bituminous sarking in the roof) may have contributed to the rapid spread of the fire

...which was then contributed to by a failure to follow the fire code:

Telstra’s internal review of the incident also identified a number of compliance issues that may have contributed to the intensity of the fire and, in particular, the spread of corrosive smoke and particulate matter throughout the building. These compliance issues include: fire doors being left open, cable access holes not being sealed, and the air-conditioning system (which maintains the equipment at operating temperature under normal circumstances) continuing to operate for 32.5 minutes after the fire was detected. Telstra’s report includes a series of recommendations to address these issues

You can read the full report over at the DBCDE website. [DBCDE]

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