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Royal Albion Hotel Fire: Discarded Cigarette Likely Sparked Blaze

The devastating fire at the historic Royal Albion Hotel last July was likely started by a carelessly discarded cigarette that set fire to an aged window frame in high winds, according to an initial fire investigation report released by East Sussex Fire and Rescue this week.

The report praised hotel staff for their quick action in evacuating the building, resulting in only one injury – a person who got smoke in their eyes.

The occupants of room 330, where the fire is believed to have started, had already returned to their home in Hong Kong by the time fire services could speak with them. They denied smoking in the room, claiming they had checked in and left their luggage before going out sightseeing about an hour before the fire began.

Fire investigators believe the blaze spread rapidly through hidden voids in the building, similar to the fire at the Claremont Hotel in Eastbourne in 2020.

“The man and woman from Hong Kong arrived at the hotel at 4:56 PM,” the report stated. “They spent some time in the room before heading out to sightsee. It cannot be proven that anyone smoked within room 330, but the most probable cause of this fire is a carelessly discarded cigarette, either by one of the occupants of room 330, or by an occupant of a different room who discarded a lit cigarette out of their window, which then blew back against the building and nestled within a crack in the dry timber window frame for room 330.”

The strong winds blowing against the window frame created conditions ideal for fire development and spread. The fire quickly engulfed room 330 and spread due to combustible materials within the walls and ceilings and multiple hidden voids throughout the building. This enabled rapid smoke travel, as highlighted by the fire alarm system, which detected smoke on the first floor even before the fire service arrived.

Credit – Sam Wayde

The fire alarm first went off in room 330 at 5:05 PM and was reset by hotel staff then and again at 5:06 PM. A manual call point was activated at 5:18 PM. By 5:20 PM, two maintenance staff were sent to investigate the fire in room 330.

“They could both smell smoke within the corridor leading up to the room,” the report noted. “They entered the room together, there was no one within the room, and there was no fire, and nothing unusual, but they could smell smoke. There were no reflective objects in or around the window. When they looked out of the window, they could see a lot of smoke but no flames coming from the window frame.”

The staff moved to a room on the next floor up to get a better look, where they observed the smouldering fire suddenly become a flaming fire.

The assistant maintenance manager reported that people were known to smoke on the window ledges in the hotel and that he often had to clear away discarded cigarettes found at the base of the hotel. However, he had not seen any cigarette butts within cracks in window frames. The hotel manager reiterated that there was a zero-tolerance policy on smoking in rooms.

In a concerningly similar incident, a fire broke out at the Harbour Hotel, 500 meters west along Kings Road, just a week after the Royal Albion blaze.

Credit: Sussex News

“In very similar circumstances, a wooden windowsill had completely burnt away with no obvious ignition sources,” the report added. A maintenance worker at the Harbour Hotel showed the investigator an original timber wooden frame similar to the one that burnt away, with large open cracks in dry timber due to age and weathering.

The findings underscore the importance of adhering to no-smoking policies and the potential dangers posed by carelessly discarded cigarettes, especially in historic buildings with aged wooden structures.

Credit – Sussex News

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