During these challenging times, it is more important than ever to protect the supply chain of food, including supermarkets and convenience stores in cities around the world.

On average 3,740 fires occur in food and groceries stores in the US annually, including supermarkets and convenience stores, according to a report published by the NFPA (National Fire Protection Association).

Structure fires in mercantile properties were responsible for the loss of 12 lives and more than $600 million indirect property damages, and this doesn’t account for the cost of business interruption and the effect on the reputation of the store. Many stores haven’t been able to recover after a fire.

The report estimates that a single fire may cost $46,000 on average, which in hindsight is considerably higher than investing in a fire detection system.

The most common causes of fire in supermarkets

It’s important to look at the data from two different perspectives. The first is the number of fires by cause, and the other is to quantify the property loss by cause.

The report estimates that a single fire may cost $46,000 on average

Fires caused by cooking equipment , including stores with kitchens and warming and portable equipment, account for 21% of incidences, but only for just 7% of total property damage and four civilian deaths (firefighter and first responder deaths are registered on a different report).

On the other hand, electrical distribution and lighting equipment malfunctions and defective wiring account for 15% of the total of fires in a given year, but caused $165 million in property loss, or 27% of the total recorded on the report.

It is also important to mention that intentional fires are the third cause reported, accounting for 11% of the total fire incidences and 20% of the property loss highlighted in the report.

Occupation, materials and risks

The kind of store poses a significant variety of risks associated to the type of occupation, the number of occupants and the materials stored and available in the shopping areas. It’s possible to find combustible materials of diverse nature and propagation speed.

Cardboard and paper wrapping can be found in all store areas, including book and magazine stands. Cleaning products, oils and fatty products might have a high propagation speed. All of this, surrounded by different kind of plastics, immensely increase the level of risk.

Overall, combustible liquids caused 41% of the civilian deaths recorded during the report

In my firefighting years I’ve responded to several fires in food supermarkets and distribution centers, and saw tuna cans (canned with oil) exploding and spreading flames to the surrounding areas.

Regarding occupation, it is known that supermarkets and groceries stores are places with high levels of occupation, especially during working hours. But one interesting fact that the report found is that fires occurring between 9pm and 5am can cause, on average, $73,800 in property damage. The NFPA estimates that 21% of human life losses happened between 12am and 3am.

This highlights the importance of installing and maintaining an automatic fire detection system.

Installing fire detection And Protecting Your Store

With the variety of materials and the risk level that can be found in this kind of environment, it’s necessary to take a holistic approach. Fire protection should be designed while considering several angles, from passive protection in all interior and exterior structures and cladding to active protection with sprinkler and clean agent systems, proper ventilation and smoke control and automatic fire detection and evacuation systems.

On average 3,740 fires occur in food and groceries stores in the US annually

Several detection technologies need to work in parallel, depending on the type of products stored, the environment and the expected level of occupation on the protected area. Store height and ventilation need to be taken into consideration and also the kind of lighting in some cases.

Depending on the ceiling height, the shopping floor could be protected with beam smoke detectors. If the ceiling is below six meters, or the store shelves obstruct the beam, it’s possible to use spot type smoke detectors. The same approach can be taken for warehousing and storage areas, but here I would recommend multi-criteria detectors, with heat and smoke detection combined.

localized protection

As I’ve mentioned before, cooking areas have an increased level of risk, which calls for localized protection. Here, I would recommend multi-criteria (smoke/heat) detectors for areas where food is heated and served, and smoke/heat/Carbon monoxide detectors on cooking areas to avoid nuisance alarms caused by cooking smoke and steam. It’s important to mention that until this year it was possible to install heat detection in cooking areas, but the UL 268 7th edition that comes into effect in 2021 will require cooking areas to be protected with smoke detection, and smoke detectors have to be able to reject nuisance alarms caused by cooking smoke and steam.

Smaller supermarkets and convenience stores usually have vertical freezers or horizontal open freezers. Here, electrical and mechanical failures can ignite fires, which is why it is important to protect the rear side of the freezers. I would recommend point-type smoke detectors, as photoelectric smoke detectors tend to perform better on smoldering fires.

The report mentions that air conditioning equipment and electrical equipment can be sources of ignition as well. To protect A/C rooms and electrical rooms I would recommend combined smoke/heat detectors, or maybe even smoke/heat/CO to assure better detection and avoid unwanted alarms in these business critical areas.

There is a type of photoelectric smoke detector that uses two different LED sources inside the smoke chamber. This technology, called Dual-Ray, allows the smoke detector to identify the particles inside the chamber by size. The detector knows if it is sensing dust or steam, and can even differentiate between cooking or cigarette smoke from actual smoke from a smoldering fire. Bosch Building Technologies first introduced dual Ray technology in 2015.

protecting the food supply chain

During these challenging times, it’s more important than ever to protect the food supply chain and avoid the social and economic impact of fires in food stores, especially in impoverished areas. Supermarkets and convenience stores present a variety of challenges regarding fire protection, which calls for a holistic approach where passive and active protection are equally important.

To achieve this target, one key element is automatic fire detection. Smoke and heat sensing technologies must be combined, and one size-fits-all approach is not enough. Detection and effective evacuation are critical to protect lives and minimize property loss.

Share with LinkedIn Share with Twitter Share with Facebook Share with Facebook
Download PDF version Download PDF version

Author profile

Ivan Paredes Tamayo Head of Product Marketing for Latin America – Fire Detection and Life Safety, Bosch Security Systems

Ivan studied Electronic Engineering and Automation and has almost 19 years' experience in the fire prevention and fire detection fields as a chief designer and project manager for several integration companies.

He served as Firefighter and Urban Search and Rescue specialist for the Guayaquil Fire Department for 8 years.

Working as Head of Product Marketing in Bosch Security and Safety Systems, he is responsible for the development of the fire detection business within Bosch, with a focus in strengthening relations with the fire prevention community and authorities in Latin America, promoting fire prevention knowledge for engineers and society, and creating safer buildings.

In case you missed it

No Easy Solutions: Complex Causes Surround Growth Of Wildfires
No Easy Solutions: Complex Causes Surround Growth Of Wildfires

Understanding the underlying causes of wildfires enables us to control them better over the long haul. One element is climate change, which has created conditions prone to wildfires by increasing heat, changing rain and snow patterns, and shifting plant communities. But there are also other contributing factors in the growing scale and intensity of wildfires. One is the condition of the forests in Australia, California, and other areas where the incidence of wildfires has increased. In California, for example, it is well known that the forests are unhealthy and in need of more prescribed burns and other thinning efforts. However, given California’s 33 million acres of forest land, more than half of it publicly owned, even an ambitious effort like addressing the needs of a million acres a year would require decades to fix the problem. managing the landscape We as a society need to decide how we can restore our forests, and start a conversation about what that looks like" “We know that getting our forests back to a healthy state will be the most effective way to cope with fires in the future,” says Jessica Block, Associate Director for Operational Programs at the WIFIRE Lab at the University of California San Diego. “However, massive fires are destroying the ability of forests to recover." The goal is not to stop wildfires but to understand the role of fire as part of the natural processes of managing the landscape. “We as a society need to decide how we can restore our forests, and start a conversation about what that looks like,” adds Block. “We should think of forests as a system we live in, and a system that we should be able to live in. Understanding the system is the goal, so that we can make all the right decisions in the future.” identify and control wildfires Fires are eating up forests that are way too dense and that have way too many standing trees, and state and federal agencies alone cannot solve the problem. Furthermore, the stakes are literally life and death: Thousands will die, whether in the wildfires or from the effects of inhaling smoke. The negative impact on long-term health is impossible to measure. Especially troubling is the impact of wildfires at the so-called wildland-urban interface (WUI), where growing population centers border on wildlands at risk of fire. Current fire models are not designed for these areas, so more work is needed to address these specific risks. Almost everyone agrees that the solution is to identify and control wildfires at early stages before they get out of control and turn into huge fires that impact millions of acres. automatic detection capabilities Today, postings on social media are an early warning sign but may not identify the exact location of a fire New technologies are helping to identify nascent wildfires. One option is the addition of automatic detection capabilities to the AlertWildfire network of cameras that currently keeps watch throughout five Western states to provide early warning of wildfires. So far, human volunteers have been used to track the cameras, but automation is on the horizon. One application of machine learning is to detect a smoke flume. A critical element is the ability to tell the difference between smoke and clouds, which humans can easily differentiate but is difficult to automate. With machine learning, computers should be able to “learn” the difference. Soon, mechanisms will exist to detect the location of a fire via multiple inputs - web cameras, social media and satellite images. Today, postings on social media are an early warning sign but may not identify the exact location of a fire. Working together, the other tools can help to pinpoint the location. Alerts to fire dispatchers must be verified as real to avoid misuse of resources.

Australia’s Moonshot: To Be Global Leader In Wildfire Prevention, Resilience
Australia’s Moonshot: To Be Global Leader In Wildfire Prevention, Resilience

Andrew and Nicola Forrest have committed 50 million Australian dollars (US$35 million) to the Fire and Flood Resilience initiative through Minderoo Foundation, with a goal of raising an additional 450 million (US$320 million) in direct or in-kind support over the life of the program. The goal of the ambitious investment is to make Australia the global leader in fire and flood resistance by the year 2025. It is an audacious vision that requires an innovative approach, and the organization takes inspiration from the U.S. Apollo mission of the 1960s. In effect, it will be a “moonshot” to advance the cause of preventing and controlling wildfires. Specifically, the first mission, Fire Shield, seeks to ensure no dangerous bushfire in Australia will burn longer than an hour by 2025. respond to wildfires The Flood and Resilience Blueprint further seeks to provide every community in Australia the skills and resources to cope with fire and flood disasters. Finally, it seeks to provide “healthy landscapes” by improving ecosystems to be “immune” to fire and flood disasters. Founded in 2001, Minderoo Foundation exists to arrest unfairness and create opportunities to better the world  “We are not daunted by or afraid of taking on the toughest challenges,” says Karen O’Connor, Missions Lead for Minderoo Foundation’s Fire & Flood Resilience initiative. "Fire has a devastating and unfair impact on communities all around the world - and if we can help drive better approaches to prevent and respond to wildfires, we can have a profound influence.” Founded in 2001, Minderoo Foundation exists to arrest unfairness and create opportunities to better the world. black summer bushfires Minderoo Foundation stepped up after Australia’s black summer bushfires in 2019-2020 to help communities respond to and recover from the devastation. The organization also seeks to do whatever it can to mitigate the risk of large-scale damage due to bushfires and build resilience to future disasters. “We understand that fire and flood are critical ecological processes that enable many of Australia’s ecosystems to function, supporting regeneration and new growth,” says O’Connor. “Therefore, Fire Shield does not aim to prevent wildfires entirely but rather to prevent wildfires from becoming disasters.” ground truth data Fire Shield will progress using the “Mission” methodology that involves breaking down major problems into smaller elements that can be addressed in turn. Missions are outcome-focused and time bound. They rely on accurate baseline and ground truth data and an ability to measure impact to know when the mission has succeeded in its goal. Fundamental to the Mission approach is bringing the best people and expertise to the challenges at hand Fundamental to the Mission approach is bringing the best people and expertise to the challenges at hand - whether they are working in scientific research, in government, corporations or philanthropy. Having accurate data and measures are also essential. To that end, Fire Shield is working with partners to develop an ecosystem for data standardization and sharing in order to collectively leverage insights to address future hazards. emergency services “It is also about making sure that people working in fire and emergency services are provided with the right information, in a timely manner, to make the best decisions when responding to fire,” says O’Connor. An example is Fire Shield’s partnership with the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council to support all Australian emergency services to develop new capabilities for fire detection, information sharing, fire simulation and response as well as utilizing data for improved decision-making wherever they are. fundamental principles “No matter what we do, Minderoo Foundation is always guided by the evidence,” says O’Connor. Minderoo Foundation’s Fire & Flood Resilience Blueprint has brought the best available evidence and expertise together to lay out a resilience blueprint for Australia and to inform the design and selection of missions, including Fire Shield. It challenges us to go right back to scientific principles and look for the best possible solutions” Importantly, the Blueprint is a “living document” that can evolve as the evidence base grows. First order problem solving is about going to the fundamental principles that apply to a problem, rather than thinking through analogies or accepted wisdom. “It challenges us to go right back to scientific principles and look for the best possible solutions,” says O’Connor.  important resilience problems The initiative is committed to working collaboratively. To date they have secured more than 50 partners across corporations, governments and civil society - and they are always open to more. They are also actively looking to collaborate with international programs with similar goals, to ensure they can multiply rather than duplicate efforts.  “We intend to share and publish our work widely, and of course continue to build collaboration, which is central to our approach,” says O’Connor. “We see ourselves as an enabler encouraging, facilitating and convening dialogue among different organizations and sectors of society to identify the most important resilience problems - and get to solutions faster.”

The Origin Of One California Wildfire Was A Gender Reveal Party
The Origin Of One California Wildfire Was A Gender Reveal Party

An explosion of blue-colored smoke on Sept. 5, 2020 in Yucalpa, California, was the beginning of a large wildfire in El Dorado Ranch Park. The pyrotechnic device was essentially a smoke bomb designed to send plumes of pink or blue smoke rising into the air, designating the gender of an expected baby. The expectant dad had packed the target with a highly explosive substance called Tannerite and shot it with a high-powered rifle. The target was designed to explode in pink or blue to reveal whether the couple was expecting a boy or a girl. Flammable foliage When the device ignited, so did the dry, wild grasses growing up to 4 feet tall in the meadow at the park, 80 miles east of Los Angeles. In the peak of summer, Southern California foliage is extremely flammable, and there were already fires burning across the state. After being active for 11 days, the fire had affected 18,506 acres and was 63% contained. The family that sparked the fire sought to put down the flames using water bottles. Then they called 911. The responsible individuals were still at the park when firemen arrived, and there are also surveillance cameras. Wildfire Spread And Evacuation The fire spread from the park to the north on to Yucalpa Ridge that separates Mountain Home Village and Forest Falls from the City of Yucalpa. The fire threatened a nearby residential neighborhood, and some 21,000 people were evacuated. After being active for 11 days, the fire had affected 18,506 acres and was 63% contained. The pyrotechnic show was a variation on the popular trend of gender reveal parties, which seek to announce the gender of an expected infant in increasingly (and competitively) colorful and/or dramatic ways. The parties are often featured prominently on social media. Rising temperatures Also contributing to the fire was recent weather in California, whose terrain was scorching in record-breaking temperatures as high as 120 degrees F in early September. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL Fire) reminds the public that, with the dry conditions and critical fire weather, it does not take much to start a wildfire, and those responsible for starting fires due to negligence or illegal activity can be held financially and criminally responsible. Natural conditions and human activity Natural conditions are central to causing wildfires, although human activity can provide the triggers Natural conditions are central to causing wildfires, although human activity can provide the triggers, including downed power lines, sparks from tire blowouts, and barbecues that get out of control. The pivotal gender-reveal part is just the latest example. If not for the increasingly dry and scorched conditions that make wildfire so easy to ignite, such human events would be much less consequential. With thousands of acres of wildfire raging across California, the cause of one wildfire seems less important in the overall scheme of things. However, the event does emphasize how seemingly minor events can have a very large impact. Lightning and fireworks Another cause of recent wildfires was lightning with more than 10,000 lightning strikes sparking 376 fires on Aug 16 and 17, 2020. In a season of wildfires, use of fireworks, for whatever reason, is a particular risk. Fireworks cause an average of 18,500 fires each year in the United States. Of those, about 1,200 injuries are from less powerful devices such as small firecrackers and sparklers.