Arson at Wiltshire Social club: Preventing fires at your venue

News reached us this week of a fire at a sports club in Wiltshire which appears to have been started deliberately.

According to this report in the Salisbury Journal, the fire service was called to Harnham Sports and Social Club at 2pm on May 18th to deal with the blaze.

When the blaze was finally brought under control, a police spokesman confirmed that they believed the fire was a result of arson. At the time of the ‘attack’, the club was hosting a training course in the function room and attendees claimed they had heard noises on the roof above them.

Is arson preventable?

Most clubs are brilliant at putting measures in place to avoid accidental fires. The clubs we work with all keep machinery well-maintained. They also ensure they’re using safety equipment such as fire doors and extinguishers.

But it’s a little trickier to risk manage the possibility of someone starting a fire maliciously. You can’t predict when or where the attack might happen.

But there are measures you can put in place to make it more difficult for people to start fires at your club.

Clear large refuse and waste piles

Large waste piles and overflowing dustbins cause a fire hazard and are an easy target for arsonists, especially those near buildings. Make sure that you aren’t leaving rubbish lying around in piles, and contact the council if your waste is building up.

Keep flammable liquids and objects in a locked container

Flammable liquids and materials, like petrol and wooden chairs, should be kept in locked containers, sheds or outbuildings when not in use. It’s important to take note of any smaller objects that could be used as projectiles, or larger accelerants.

Report all anti-social behaviour

Very rarely will a criminal commit an arson attack on a completely random venue that they know nothing about. Commonly, they’ll have some connection to the club, or they’ll have recently visited.

Often, arson is committed by bored teenagers from the local area. It’s important that you stay vigilant to anyone who looks like they’re up to no good in and around your club, and report individuals who’ve expressed a grievance with you, your staff or your members.

Install security lights and CCTV

The majority of arson attacks wouldn’t occur if the culprit knew they’d get caught. It’s a crime where the evidence literally burns away. Unless you have good lighting around your club and adequate CCTV. The chance of being seen should be enough to dissuade any would-be arsonist.

Keep any un-monitored entry points closed

We’ve seen plenty of arson attempts and attacks where the criminals have thrown flaming missiles through open windows and cracks in doors left ajar.

If you’re not using an entry or exit point, or you can’t see it from the bar at all times, keep it closed.  

Fit a metal container to letterboxes

And finally, one of the most common M.Os for arson is to drop a lit cigarette or bundle of paper through a letterbox. It’s very rare that a letterbox would be locked, so it’s an access point for criminals 24/7.

However, if you install a metal box on the inside of your door to catch anything that comes through the letter box, you can prevent fires starting on your doormat.

In general, the best advice we can give is to check with the local authorities to see if they have any specific advice on crime prevention. It’s also vital that you check your insurance conditions for any clauses specifically relating to fire prevention.

For instance, some policies will dictate that if waste is within a certain distance of your buildings, it must be in closed metal lid containers

Remember, the attack at Harnham shows that arsonists don’t always wait for a building to empty before they start the fire. Creating a proper risk management strategy to prevent fires isn’t just to stay on the right side of your insurance; it’s to save lives.

At the time of writing this article (21/05/2019), police are still appealing to witnesses of the crime at Harnham and are urging anyone who may have been in the area at the time to call 101 and quote the CRN 54190047742.