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A. F.

Robertson1 and Daniel Gross1

Fire Load, Fire Severity, and Fire Endurance

REFERENCE: Robertson, A. F. and Gross, Daniel, "Fire Load, Fire Severity, and Fire Endurance," Fire Test Performance, ASTM STP 464, American Society for Testing and Materials, 1970, p p . 3-29.
ABSTRACT: A review is presented of fire studies beginning with the work
of Ingberg at the National Bureau of Standards, who attempted to relate
the severity of a fire endurance test in the laboratory to the conditions existing during actual building fires. He showed the importance of weight of
combustibles per unit floor area as a major factor. H e recognized the importance of ventilation in controlling fire behavior but did not specify it as
a separate variable. Fujita in Japan is credited with emphasizing the importance of ventilation. His work has been followed and enlarged by others
around the world. Ventilation parameters, compartment geometry, and fuel
arrangement have been shown to exert a powerful influence. The radiance
from a burning building is dependent to a large extent on the nature of the
ventilating openings. Fire severity is not well defined, since it depends on
the interaction of the temperature-time curve developed during a fire and
the thermophysical properties of the materials exposed. There is a great
need for further research on the influence of fuel arrangement, building
geometry, and ventilation on fires in buildings.
KEY WORDS: fires in buildings, burn-out, fire severity, fire endurance, fire
ventilation, experimental fires, evaluation, tests

The structural failure of buildings during accidental fires was so


frequent and disastrous to adjoining property owners at the turn of the
century that both the insurance industry, through the Underwriters' and
the Factory Mutual Laboratories, and the public, through the National
Bureau of Standards (NBS), built new laboratories and initiated studies
on the fire performance of building construction elements. The first of
these investigations involved cooperative fire tests of building columns [I]. 2 While the fire test procedure used at that time was not based
on a national standard, it was very similar to methods used today, ASTM
Methods of Fire Tests of Building Construction and Materials (ASTM
1
Physicist, Office of Fire Research and Safety, and physicist, Fire Research Section,
respectively, National Bureau of Standards, Washington, D.C. 20234. Mr. Gross is a
personal member ASTM.
2
The italic numbers in brackets refer to the list of references appended to this
paper.

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1970
by ASTM
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FIRE TEST PERFORMANCE

designation: E 119-67), etc. The present fire endurance test involves


erection of a portion of a building either within a furnace, as in the case
of columns, or as part of the enclosing walls or top of such a furnace.
The structure is loaded, if appropriate, and oil or gas fires are initiated
within the furnace and controlled to follow a standard temperaturetime curve.
The length of time during which the specimen remains structurally
stable without the development of through openings or of excessive
temperature rise on the unexposed surface is defined as the fire endurance of the construction. The adoption of a single temperature-time
curve for these tests was based on the recognized need for a performance
evaluation and the obvious need for economy in testing. Nevertheless,
it was recognized early that such a procedure did not closely simulate
the many types of thermal exposure likely to be encountered in a building
fire.
This paper reviews the published evidence of the manner in which
these test methods were justified. Early work related to such justification was confined primarily to the study of temperatures developed within the building or furnace. Recent developments have shown the need to
recognize that one of the important effects is radiant emission from the
fire. In this paper radiation effects are treated as one aspect or measure
of fire severity.
Early NBS Work
In 1922, the National Bureau of Standards reported the first of a series
of burn-out tests in specially constructed buildings [2]. It is clear from
this reference that the objective of the study was to relate fire test
exposure conditions to those existing during fires in occupied buildings.
These first studies were conducted in a brick building 16 by 30 by 9 ft
high. Further studies [3, 4] in a brick building 30 by 60 by 9 ft high
were described briefly in 1926. The latter of these, describing burn-out
of office occupancies involving both wood and steel furniture and filing
cabinets, reported that the decrease after peak temperatures were developed was much more gradual in an actual building fire than that
following a typical furnace test. It was further stated that the way in
which the two exposure conditions could be related must wait for further
study. Another report [5] defines the objectives of the studies by saying:
The tests to obtain information on the intensity and duration of fires in
buildings are conducted to determine the temperatures to which it is proper
to subject building materials and constructions in fire test furnaces and to serve
as a guide in applying the results of such furnace tests to building design.
The first report of such correlation appears to have been published as
part of the Report of the Committee on Protection of Records in the

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ROBERTSON AND GROSS ON LOAD, SEVERITY, AND ENDURANCE

Proceedings of the National Fire Protection Association [6] in May 1927.


Here results were tabulated for equivalent fire duration of office and file
room occupancies using wood furniture or shelving and fire loads (weight
of combustible per unit floor area) varying from 10 to 60 psf. This
reference contains the following statement:
The durations given in the table apply to air temperature and flame effects
on record containers and thin partitions, the average room temperatures developed in the tests being considered as affecting records or thin partitions
down to 300F. (or 150C.). As concerns effects on heavier partitions and
walls, as well as on interior incombustible structural members whose strength
is not appreciably reduced by temperatures throughout the section of 300C.
(572F.), the periods can be reduced by 10 to 15 minutes for durations of 2
hours or less and by IM hoiu-s for the 7 and 8 hour periods.
Photographs of the occupied buildings and descriptions of the tests
were published in the Quarterly of the National Fire Protection Association [7] in January 1927. This same journal a year later [8] carried the
most complete published report on these tests and again included a table
correlating fuel load with fire endurance during a standard test.
The two buildings mentioned above were constructed specially for
these studies and were furnished to simulate the type of occupancy
desired. One such arrangement is shown in Figs. 1 and 2. The first

-<:

FIG. 1The interior of small test building representing office occupancy with metal
furniture on concrete floor. The exposed papers were intended to represent the probable maximum of exposed material in an occupancy of this type.

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FIRE TEST PERFORMANCE

FIG. 2The interior of the small test building after a fire test with office occupancy, metal furniture on concrete floor. This was an exposure fire test, the rack in
the right background of the picture being filled with kindling wood surrounded with
a shield which was drawn back after it was burning briskly, thus simulating the
condition of an exposure fire.

shows conditions prior to starting an office occupancy fire; the latter


shows conditions after the fire. In this test the fire start had been made
more severe by burning a kindhng fire in a shielded grate or tall metal
basket and then, when the fire was well under way, removing the metal
shield from around the kindling. This was described as an exposure fire
starting method. It is clear from the description of these experiments
in the reference that the type and distribution of combustible furniture
and contents as well as the ventilation had an important influence in
modifying fire behavior. For example, in the reports, statements such
as the follovidng were common:
During this test the window shutters were opened by an amount deemed
sufBcient to give the maximum fire intensity when the fire was at its height
and left at such openings while the interior cooled down.
It now seems surprising that the importance of ventilation
not suggest the necessity of including in the reports some
indication of its magnitude.
In selection of a fire endurance period corresponding
building bum-out experience [6, 8, 9] it was assumed that

control did
quantitative
to a given
the furnace

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ROBERTSON AND GROSS ON LOAD, SEVERITY, AND ENDURANCE

cooling process after termination of the fire test comprised a part of the
thermal exposure. While recognizing the technical questions posed [8]
it was assumed that by matching areas below the average burn-out
temperature curve with that below a combined heating and cooling
curve in a furnace, the severity of furnace specimen exposure would
correspond to fire.^ Figure 3 presents the derived relationship between
fire endurance and fire load together with the results of burn-out tests
on which it was based.
50
1

100
1

FIRE LOAD, kg/m2


150
200
1
1

250
1

/
6

X
X

"

X/*

30

40

1
50

FIRE LOAD, I b / f t ^

FIG. 3Laboratory fire endurance test period corresponding


to
experimental
temperature time results from 15 burn-out experiments performed by Ingberg.
The
points marked x and correspond to a match of areas above base temperatures of
300 and 150 C, respectively. The solid line passes through points recommended
by
Ingberg in Refs 8 and 9.

During the period from 1928 to 1940, surveys were made of the fire
load (that is, combustible contents) of residences, offices, schools, medical
buildings, and a few mercantile buildings [9]. In 1947, an enlarged
survey was made of the combustible contents of mercantile and manu3 The areas measured in this matching process were either above 150 C, representing temperatures at which records or thin partitions would be damaged, or above 300
C, corresponding to the lowest temperature at which thicker partitions or walls may
be assumed to be influenced by the thermal exposure conditions.

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FIRE TEST PERFORMANCE

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ROBERTSON AND GROSS ON LOAD, SEVERITY, AND ENDURANCE

facturing buildings [10]. These surveys involved the weighing of all the
movable combustible contents of the buildings studied. In cases where
furnishings were fixed in place estimates of the weight were made on
the basis of dimensions. Additionally, weights were estimated for combustible flooring and exposed woodwork other than flooring. These
items were reported separately as well as combined with movable fire
load to show the total fire load present. The results of these surveys are
summarized in Table 1 and have been used [9] as a basis of defining the
fire endurance performance requirements for fire resistive buildings
in building codes.
Ingberg had shown through his burn-out studies [7, 8, 9] that when
combustibles were stored in metal furniture and filing cabinets, only a
fraction of the material so stored would become involved in fires that
might occur. Apparently at that time the use of wooden furniture and
cabinets was so common that when Ref 9 was prepared no consideration
was taken of the lower fire loads and the lower fire performance requirement for the structure that would have been possible by the use of
metal furniture.
This work in measuring combustible loads in buildings served to close
the gap between fire endurance tests in the laboratory and the experimentally measured fire severity as a function of fuel load during actual
building fires. The surveys were performed from 20 to 40 years ago,
and there is today some question as to the relevance of the findings at
that time when compared with present trends in occupancy of buildings.
As a result there are plans in several countries to update these studies.
The meager evidence available to date does not suggest a need to revise
the original findings.
Postwar Japanese Studies
The work of Ingberg apparently represented the most progressive
thinking on this subject until sometime after World War II. At this
time, the Japanese, because of their serious losses to fire during the war
and the obvious need for better understanding of the problem, assumed
leadership in the theoretical and experimental study of fire problems.
Fujita* started work on spread of fire between buildings by radiation
and convection in 1940 and by 1948 had published ten papers on this
subject. During this period his attention was directed to fire development within enclosures. His first study on this subject involved the
analysis of the thermophysical problem of gas flow through the windows
of a compartment involved by fire. He then proceeded to study the heat
balance between a fire, the enclosing walls, and the surroundings. In
* Fujita, K., Building Research Station, Japan, private communication.

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10

FIRE TEST PERFORMANCE

1948, he encouraged Kawagoe to continue this work with both model


and full-scale fire experiments. Kawagoe [11] published an English
version of his work on enclosure fires in 1958. In this paper he described
both extensive fire model experiments as well as 14 large scale building
fire studies. Moreover, he suggested a rational analysis of the building
fire problem. He showed that the fire activity or rate of burning was a
direct function of the air supply and, in many cases, could be represented
by the product of window area and the square root of the window or
ventilation opening height. On analysis of the combustion of wood,
assumptions of the excess air flow, and the completeness of combustion,
he was able to predict the fuel combustion rate and, from this, fire
duration.
He summarized his work on studies of fires in actual buildings by
suggesting that:
1. With small window area to fuel ratio, combustion may be prolonged and
temperatures relatively moderate.
2. With large window area to fuel ratio, the period of uniform combustion
can be greatly reduced but often temperatures develop which are much above
those of the standard curve.
3. That while the relationship between fuel load and fire duration accepted
in United States and United Kingdom may be appropriate for buildings with
small windows, it was not applicable to many of the modern buildings with
very large windows. In this latter case "flashy" fires were found to produce
compartment temperatures significantly higher than those expected on the
basis of the standard temperature-time curve.
Kawagoe and Sekine have continued these theoretical studies [12, 13,
14] and combined them with the pioneer work of Fujita by attempting
to set up a balance between heat generation and loss from a compartment during a fire. In doing this they have recognized heat loss to
enclosure walls, as well as to the surroundings through windows, by both
radiation and convection and have assumed that the fuel burned at a
fixed rate proportional to the product of window area and square root of
window height. With this type of analysis the following enclosure
properties assume significance:
1.
2.
3.
4.

Internal surface area.


Window area and height.
Wall thickness.
Thermal properties of wall materials.

Fuel, flame, and ventilation properties must be recognized also, and


the authors proposed the following:
1. Flame emissivity.
2. Excess air fraction.
3. Rate of fuel consumption.

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ROBERTSON AND GROSS ON LOAD, SEVERITY, AND ENDURANCE

11

The last of these has been assumed controlled entirely by window


ventilation and directly proportional to
A^/^^
where:
A = window area, and
H = height of the window.
It was assumed that all the properties involved were independent of
temperature and time. With these simplifications he was able to compute
the temperature-time curve within an enclosure. This was done for
various wall conductivities, as well as for various values of "opening" or
"fire temperature" factors, defined as A-S/W/AT
where AT was the total
interior enclosure surface including window openings. It was shown
that fire temperatures increased with opening factor but were related
inversely to the thermal conductivity of the wall material.
Kawagoe and Sekine concluded, from studies of burn-out tests, that
after peak temperature has occurred the temperature within enclosures
seems to decay at a rate of about 10 or 7 C/h depending on whether
peak temperatures were reached at times greater or less than one hour,
respectively. They have used these cooling rates associated with the
computed temperature rise curve to complete the predicted curve. The
time at which the cooling process started was derived from the ratio of
total fuel load to burning rate. The burning rate, of course, was assumed
dependent only on the ventilation parameter. In their papers many of
these curves are presented for different types of typical buildings, and it
was shown that the peak temperatures developed were usually higher
than those called for by the standard curve used in Japan. This curve is,
for the first 4 h, very similar to the curve used in this country.
They proposed, therefore, the selection of a standard fire test exposure
time such that it yielded the same area above a base temperature of
300 C as achieved by the combined heating and cooling portion of the
computed curve. This treatment is quite similar to that used earlier by
Ingberg in comparing furnace exposures with experimentally derived
temperature time data. However the Japanese procedure neglects the
specimen thermal exposure during cooling after completion of a fire test.
The techniques used in these studies [12, 13, 14] are certainly
interesting and of value. However, several observations seem appropriate. The first is concerned with the assumption of uniform burning rate
completely controlled by window ventilation. This is based on the early
recognition in Japan of the importance of ventilation openings in controlling fire activity together with correlations developed by Thomas
following study of a variety of enclosure fire experiments [15]. More
recent work in the United States [16] and in Britain [17] has shown that

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12

FIRE TEST PERFORMANCE

there is a definite influence of fuel arrangement in setting an upper limit


to the combustion rate. Kawagoe by his references to these later studies
recognizes but does not allow for the problems introduced by neglecting
this rate-limiting factor. This may result in the prediction of temperatures significantly on the high side in many cases.
Another apparent shortcoming of the analysis in his first two papers
is that in deriving the predicted temperature-time curve for a building
fire he assumed that the interval from start of the fire to maximum
temperature corresponds to consumption of all the fuel. At the latter
time a gradual cooling process was initiated to simulate the temperature
decay process during a real fire experiment.. All the evidence available
suggests that the gradual cooling process during a real fire burn-out
experiment is itself a portion of the fuel combustion process. Thus the
predicted gradual cooling process overestimates the heat release capability of the fuel in the building and again results in the suggestion of
need for more severe fire exposures than might otherwise be necessary.
In his most recent paper on this same subject [14] Kawagoe recognizes
this limitation and has developed a computer solution of the heat balance
equation for conditions other than constant heat release rate. He also
provides for computer solution of the temperature decay curve. The
need now is to develop a better understanding of the factors of importance in controlling fuel consumption rate. It is evident, however,
that the work in Japan has gone a long way towards rational prediction
of fire behavior in building compartments.
Recent Swedish Studies
In 1963, Odeen published a thesis [18] in which he set u p a heat
balance equation in a manner very similar to that of Kawagoe and
Sekine. However, heat release rate was not related to window opening
but arbitrarily estabhshed. He showed that compartment temperatures
were a direct function of heat release rate as well as the insulating
properties of enclosure walls. Such temperatures were related inversely
to both the heat capacity of the inert items present in the room and the
emissivity of the enclosure walls. Odeen also made estimates on the
importance of fuel element geometry on the rate of heat release, on the
assumption that the reaction was surface-area controlled. He concluded
that for a given average rate of heat release and minimum cross-sectional
dimension of fuel element the maximum fire temperatures would be
little affected by shape of fuel element, but the temperature time history
would experience drastic changes.
In a later paper [19] Odeen has reported experiments on fires in a
small hut. Fire severity, as indicated by areas below the temperaturetime curves, were measured and compared with changes in quantity of

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ROBERTSON AND GROSS ON LOAD, SEVERITY, A N D ENDURANCE

13

fuel available for combustion as well as surface-to-volume ratio of the


fuel. The results indicate that both temperature and fire severity were
related directly to the quantity of fuel consumed. On the other hand,
fire severity was related inversely to air supply rate while the maximum
temperature increased with air supply in the low air feed rate range but
was affected very little by air supply for higher rates. Changes in fuel
element size, over the range studied, had surprisingly little effect on
both fire severity and maximum temperatures observed.
Recent British Studies
Work recently conducted in Britain has added much to knowledge of
fires in compartments. Planned experiments were performed in compartments of roughly 3.7 by 7.7 m (12 by 25 ft) dimensions and 3 m
(10.5 ft) high. Two 1.8 by 3 m (6 by 10 ft) windows were located in
one of the larger compartment walls. The controlled variables studied
included:
(a) Fire load.
(b) Fire load display, that is, fuel stick spacing and arrangement.
1200,

1600 u.

30
40
TIME min

FIG. 4Average compartment temperatures as a function of time, for compartment


fires involving varying fire loads and window ventilation conditions (from Ref 20).

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14

FI RE TEST PERFORMANCE

1200

1-5

FIRE LOAD PER UNIT FLOOR AREA l b / f t *


3
6
12

."lOOO

13 800

<
a:
111
OL

UJ 6 0 0

400

2
- 200

<
O

7.5

15

30

45

FIRE LOAD PER UNIT FLOOR A R E A k g / m '

Q ^4 ventilation
O ^i ventilation
FIG. 5Maximum average temperatures inside fire compartment as a function of
fire load per unit floor area and two window ventilation conditions (from Ref 20).

(c) Window opening area (height was constant).


(d) Fuel character; solid or liquid.
Dependent variables observed as a function of time included:
(a) Gas temperatures within the compartment.
(b) Radiation levels both within the compartment and through windows.
(c) Fuel consumption rate.
(d) Thermal gradients in walls and ceilings.
Twenty-four full-scale fire experiments comprised a study designed
for analysis by statistical methods to yield the most comprehensive
findings possible. The results have been analyzed in a number of papers
[20, 21, 22, 23], In the first of these it was shown that over the range
of variables studied, compartment temperatures were related directly
to fire load per unit floor area but inversely to area of the ventilation
opening. Figures 4 and 5 are reproduced from this reference [20],
Later work including windows only Vs open showed lower peak average

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ROBERTSON AND GROSS ON LOAD, SEVERITY, A N D ENDURANCE


RATE OF BURNING/VENTILATION AREA lb m i n ' ' f t ' '
1
2

O Fibre insulating

15

board

Kerosine

5
1
, 5
RATE OF BURNING/VENTILATION AREA kg nnin"'m"'

+
O
A

15

''j-ventilation
V4-v(2ntiiaiior(
''a-vantilation

FIG. 6Maximum average gas temperature rise inside fire compartment as a


function of average burning rate per unit ventilation area, data points for other than
wood-crib fires are marked (from. Ref 22).

temperatures than for V4 window openings, at least for the 60 kg/m^


(12.4 psf) fire load. Thus there are fuel and compartment variables
which in particular combinations produce maximum compartment temperatures; above and below these values, compartment temperatures are

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16

FIRE TEST PERFORMANCE

lower. This explains how interpretation of data over limited ranges in


variables could yield seemingly different conclusions. It was evident
that, as found by others, the area below die temperature-time curve for
a given fire load generally increased with decreasing ventilation opening.
Heselden" [22] published an analysis of the heat balance during nine
of these fires in which the rather shallow compartment had noncombustible finish. He reported that, for the experiments performed, changes
in ventilation area had little effect until fuel loads of about 146 kg/m^
(30 psf), based on area of window opening were reached. If recognition
is taken of the way in which window height, as well as area, serves to
control ventilation, this ratio, total fuel load, L, divided by A\/H, becomes 112 kg/m^/^ (12.2 Vo/h^'^). The author commented that average
gas temperature rise in the compartment can.be correlated directly with
fire load and inversely with window area but found a better correlation
of such temperatures directly with burning rate and inversely with
window ventilation area. His plot is shown as Fig. 6. Since burning
rate is a dependent variable, it seems preferable to plot temperature as
a function of fire load divided by As/W iox the window. This plot is
shown as Fig. 7. It is evident that with the exception of the fires
involving liquid fuels or fiberboard wall linings the maximum temFIRE LOAD/VENTILATION ( L / A / h i j . k g / m ^ ^ ^

100

200

300

400

500

2400

10

20

30

40

50

60

FIRE LOAD/VENTILATION(L/A\/H),lb/ft^'^

FIG. 1Maximum average gas temperature rise for compartment fires as a function
of fuel load per unit ventilation parameter Ay/iT; points marked F, G, and K refer
to fiberboard, gasoline, and kerosine fuels, respectively. Symbols used correspond to
different floor fuel loadings *-7.5 kg/m^ (1.55 psf), X-13 kg/m^ (3 psf), 0-30
/tg/m (6 psf), A-60 kg/m^ (12 psf). (Experimental data from Refs 20 and 21).

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ROBERTSON AND GROSS ON LOAD, SEVERITY, AND ENDURANCE

17

peratures are related directly to L / A V i T up to values of about 80 kg/m^''^


(9.1 lb/ft^/2). Further increase of this parameter had little influence on
peak temperatures, apparently because the fire was ventilation limited.
Figure 8 presents these same temperature data plotted with respect to
fire load per unit floor area. The deterioration of correlation is immediately apparent.
FIRE LOAD/FLOOR AREA, k g / m ^
20
30
40
50

10
1

2000

60

^
A

<&

1000

1600

<

X
X

<
a:

800

400

<

_-

S
a.
LLI

1-

- 6 0 0 UJ
o

<t
a:
Ld

LlJ

800

o
o

UJ
(S

"Kt

UJ
Q.

Lu 1200

o
uJ
a:

400

>
X

200
1

1
10
FIRE LOAD/FLOOR AREA.ib/ft"^
1

1
8

<

1
12

FIG. 8Maximum average gas temperature rise in compartment as a function of


fire load per unit floor area, see caption of Fig. 7 for symbol legend. (Experimental
data from Ref 22j.

Margaret Law has analyzed the data on radiation from the windows
during these 24 experimental fires [23], She has shown good correlation
between thermal radiation theory and the data for window irradiance and
compartment temperatures. The line shown in Fig. 9, reproduced from
her paper, is the theoretical relationship for window irradiance on the
assumption that the effective emissivity of the cavity is unity. The correlation is surprisingly good. In plotting other total irradiance data, she
also used fuel burning rate per unit window area as an independent
variable. However, it seems preferable from a practical point of view
to plot the data as shown in Fig. 10. It is evident that total irradiance

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18

FIRE TEST PERFORMANCE

6-0

o/
4-0

80

oP
E

n/

S 2-0

D
Slope a 4

Q.

O
f= 1-0
<

/c

5 0-8
D/

^0-6
z

0-4

UJ

o/
X 0-2
<

o /

7o
1
/ 1
1
0-1
400
6 0 0 8 0 0 1000
2000
MAXIMUM TEMPERATURE (Tp) dcgK

FIG. 9Maximum intensity of window radiation as a function of maximum compartment gas temperature (from Ref 23J.

of these fires with wood-crib fuel arrays correlates in nearly linear fashion
with the fire load ventilation parameter up to the point that the fire
becomes ventilation limited, after which radiation levels start to decrease.
The data for fiberboard emphasize the importance of the way in which

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ROBERTSON AND GROSS ON LOAD, SEVERITY, AND ENDURANCE

19

FIRE L 0 A 0 / V E N T I L A T I 0 N ( L / A y H ) , k g / m ^ ^ 2
200

400

600

800

1000

20
40
60
80
100
120
FIRE LOAD/VENTILATION ( L / A / H ) , I b / f t ^ ' Z

1200

140

FIG. IQMaximum total intensity of radiation as a function of fuel load per unit
ventilation parameter AVET, see caption of Fig. 7 for symbol legend. (Experimental
data from Ref 23).

the fuel is arranged in modifying burning behavior and thus irradiance.


To date there have not been sufBcient studies to suggest effective and
useful ways of predicting the burning behavior of fuels in various
exposure geometries.
One step towards meeting this need was reported by Gross [24] in
which the free unconfined burning behavior of cubical crib-type fuel
arrays was studied as a function of stick-crib dimensions and crib
porosity. Of course, the burning behavior of the sticks was influenced
greatly by porosity of the crib. Nevertheless, Seigel [25] has used the
data as the basis of a plot relating maximum burning rate to stick size.
Use of his chart suggests a burning rate of about 3 percent of the total
fuel per minute for the 4.5 cm ( 1 % in.) square sticks used for the British
experiments. Figure 11 presents a plot of fuel consumption rate as a
function L/A\/H from Ref 23 based on tests under ventilation-limited
conditions. Since the data show mostly fuel combustion rates greater
than 3 percent per minute, it is evident that the form of crib used in the

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20

FIRE TEST PERFORMANCE


FIRE LOAD/VENTILATION ( L / A / H ) , k g / m S / z
100
200
300
400

500

FIRE LOAD/VENTILATION ( L / A N / H ) , I b / f t ^ ^ ^
FIG. 11Average consumption rate of wooden cribs during compartment fires as
a function of fire load per unit ventilation parameter L/AVn; see caption of Fig. 7
for symbol legend. (Experimental data from Ref 23j.

British tests resulted in fuel consumption rates significantly higher than


would be expected on the basis of Gross's data. This again suggests that
more work is needed on the influence of fuel display properties on fire
behavior.
The work of Butcher and Margaret Law [26] in relating compartment
fire effects with those developed during a standard fire endurance test
is of considerable interest. The steel columns protected with low density
mineral wool insulation were exposed to both the conditions of the
compartment fire and a standard fire endurance test. By determining
the maximum average temperature rise of the steel shaft during the
compartment fires and selecting exposure durations which resulted in
development of equal steel temperatures during a fire endurance test
they were able to plot furnace fire endurance time as a function of
compartment fire load per unit floor area.
This plot failed to result in any satisfactory correlation of the data but
did emphasize the importance of ventilation as a complicating variable.
They then proceeded to analyze the experimental data through analogy
with an electrical resistance-capacitance network. Electrical resistance

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ROBERTSON AND GROSS ON LOAD, SEVERITY, AND ENDURANCE

21

was considered analogous to the thermal resistance of the insulation, and


electrical capacitance was considered analogous to the thermal capacity
of the steel. On this basis they were able to show rather close correlation of furnace exposure time with development of selected steel temperatures and the time constant of the insulation-steel assembly. The
empirical formula they derived was the following:
t = 0.140 ^yRC
where:
t = time (in seconds) in the furnace test,
6 = temperature (in deg C) reached by the steel at time *,
R r= insulation thickness divided by the product of conductivity and
fire exposed perimeter in units of deg C cm s/cal, and
C = product of specific heat and steel weight per unit length in units
of cal/cm deg C.
This formula should be of significant value to those wishing an estimate
of fire endurance of columns protected with light weight insulation
material. The authors suggest that it is probably valid for periods up
to about iy2 h.
Margaret Law [27] also has shown a correlation of compartment fire
test data by plotting the ratio of the maximum value of the average
steel temperature rise to effective fire temperature rise against the ratio
of effective fire duration to the time constant, RC, of the column
assembly. It would have been helpful if data on furnace tests had been
plotted in a similar manner. Although the author suggests that the
shape of the fire temperature-time curve was not critical, at least for
structures with appreciable thermal impedance, this claim should be
explored further before acceptance.
St. Lawrence Bums
The planned fire experiments at Aultsville [28], a town that was
cleared for the St. Lawrence Seaway development, were designed
specifically to explore life hazards associated with building fires as well
as spread of fire through radiant exposure of adjacent structures. Six
homes, a school, and a community hall were involved. Three of the
homes were finished in plaster walls and ceilings, while the other three
were lined with fiberboard. The homes were not furnished during the
experiments so the only fire or occupancy load involved was that of the
building itself together with the two fuel cribs used in starting the fires.
These cribs were designed to burn well and involved sticks varying in
size from 1.25 cm (Vz in.) square to 4 by 9 cm (2 by 4 in.) lumber.
Each crib weighed about 155 kg (340 lb) representing a fire load for

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22

FIRE TEST PERFORMANCE

the single room in which they were placed of about 14.6 kg/m^ (3 psf)
of floor area.
A large variety of measurements were made during these tests. The
only ones relevant to the subject of this paper appear to be those for
exterior radiation and equivalent black-body temperatures within the
building. It was proposed that measured irradiance levels could be best
expressed as a hypothetical irradiance. This property was defined by
the ratio of measured irradiance to the geometric configuration factor
appropriate in describing the sum of the solid angles subtended by the
ventilation openings viewed from the radiometer. Configuration factor
is defined as the ratio of the solid angle subtended by an object, as
viewed from a receiver, to that occupied by a hemisphere.
The main findings from this work may be summarized as follows:
1. When fiberboard linings were involved the radiation levels from
the building were about twice those measured during fires in plaster finished buildings. The hypothetical window irradiance values observed
were as high as 40 cal/cm^ s in the case of fires involving fiberboard
lined buildings. This is a level about eleven times the irradiance that
would be expected, on the basis of the radiation pyrometer temperature
measurements, from an area confined to the windows alone.
2. Maximum radiation measurements were influenced significantly by
winds, but not by the type of exterior wall cladding used.
3. The radiation pyrometer measurements made during these experiments showed equivalent black-body temperatures within the burning
buildings to be significantly higher than would be expected on the basis
of the standard temperature-time curve used in laboratory tests.
The immediate conclusion drawn from the experiments was that the
fiberboard lined homes presented fire severities of a much more serious
character than developed in the plaster finished homes. Certainly this
was the case for the fire experiments conducted, but the lack of normal
combustible occupancy in the homes may have tended to exaggerate
the difference. Thus while in both cases the crib presented a fire load
of about 15 kg/m^ (3 psf) of floor area for the single room in which it
was placed, the other rooms had no occupancy fire loads. For one of the
buildings studied, the weight of fiberboard used as interior finish was
estimated at somewhat over a ton. If this were to be considered as an
occupancy load, it would amount to a fire load of about 13.6 kg/m^
(2.8 psf) for the building as a whole. Neglecting floor and exposed
trim, this would have the effect of nearly quadrupUng the readily exposed
fire load. It is not surprising that this significant difference in readily
available fuel should impose quite different fire severity conditions on

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ROBERTSON A N D GROSS ON LOAD, SEVERITY, AND ENDURANCE

23

the buildings. From both the academic and practical point of view, it
would be desirable to perform further experiments in which a normal
occupancy load was used to clarify the situation.
These experiments remain today one of the few reliable published
records of radiation measurements on fires involving complete buildings.
The higher hypothetical irradiance values reported of up to 40 cal/cm^ s
(167.3 W/cm^) were undoubtedly influenced by winds, through ventilation, and probably also by flames projecting from windows not directly
visible from the radiometers. These levels are about eight times the
maximum values reported by the British [23] and similar values measured
by NBS [29]. The fact that the fires involved more than a single floor
of the building surely contributed to the size of, and thus radiation from,
the flames.
Discussion
This review of the literature relating to fire loads and fire severity has
presented much of the published information available on this subject.
The excellent works of the IIT Research Institute and others have not
been included primarily because of lack of open-literature publications
on the findings. There has been little discussion of the basis on which
severity may be measured or assessed. It seems important to consider
this subject here.
Severity of a building fire may be defined as a measure of its potential
for damage to contents or structure. However, assessment of severity in
any given situation must be of a subjective nature until more adequate
definition is provided of the way in which the fire damage is caused.
Thus fires may result in damage through any or a combination of the
following mechanisms:
1. Growth and spread of fire to involve combustibles other than those
originally ignited in the compartment of origin.
2. Overheating of fire-protective covering of structural elements with
resulting mechanical failure of the protection and exposure of the structural element to direct heating by the fire.
3. Melting or otherwise destroying the fire-exposed surface of a diaphragm type fire barrier in such a way that fire ventilation is modified,
fire activity'is increased, and flames and hot gases project from the opening.
4. Overheating of a structural element resulting in loss of strength and
mechanical failure.
5. Excessive heat transfer through a fire barrier causing ignition of
material and thus spread of fire on the unexposed side.

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24

FIRE TEST PERFORMANCE

6. Mechanical deterioration of the structure resulting from thermally


induced spalling or other similar effects.
Ways in which fire severity could be measured in these cases might
include:
1. Measurement of char formation, weight loss or other degradation
characteristics of selected indicator materials displayed in the fire compartment.
2. Determination of maximum compartment temperature rise or the
temperature time relationship developed during the fire.
3. Measurement of integrated heat flux absorbed by a structure or a
calorimeter.
4. Development of data to permit complete heat balance for the compartment in question.
All of these techniques have been used at various times for defining
fire severity. However, preference has been usually given to measurement of the area under the fire temperature-time curve as was suggested
by Ingberg [8]. As noted by him, the temperature within a structure
exposed to a thermal transient is a direct function of the exposing temperature rise, but time enters the heat transfer equation as an exponent.
Ingberg notes that in spite of this implied technical limitation, the
matching of areas provided the best way of selecting a standard furnace
test time to simulate a building fire exposure. The base above which
temperatures were measured was either 150 C (302 F ) or 300 C (572 F ) .
The former was considered of importance as the lowest level at which
light combustible materials would be aflFected, while the latter figure
was considered the lowest level at which protected combustible constructions might be affected. Actually the accuracies of the experimental
data of Fig. 3 do not seem to justify distinguishing between these two
levels, and all the published comparisons between fire load and corresponding fire endurance based on his work involve an average line fitting
the combined data.
The assumption that two temperature time curves enclosing equal
areas result in the same fire exposure severity is of course not exact [25],
It fails to be a usefiil criterion where the differences in maximum temperature bracket a temperature which is critical with respect to the physical
properties of the fire protection covering. This is especially true when
the thermal time constant of the member being tested is short compared
to the time at which maximum fire temperatures are observed.
Seigel [25] has pointed up the great variation in temperature-time
curves which may develop in an enclosure. Fig. 4. He suggests that
under such a situation it is unreasonable to use a fixed standard temperature-time curve for fire test evaluation. He proposes that one solu-

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ROBERTSON AND GROSS ON LOAD, SEVERITY, AND ENDURANCE

25

tion might involve the use of a series of different temperature-time


exposures representative of different occupancy fire loads. Another
method which apparently would be even more relevant would involve
the use of programmed heat release rates. This latter procedure would
seem to more correctly credit constructions which exhibit high heat
absorption properties. The fire severity would be more responsive to
factors influencing it during an actual building fire. However, both of
these suggestions would complicate greatly the problem of evaluating
the fire resistance of construction. As a result, these suggestions seem
unlikely to be well received by testing laboratories prior to valid detailed
proof of their merit.
Numerous workers have attempted to measure rate of heat release
during building fires. The Japanese [11] have supported the fuel and
floor of rooms on load measuring equipment and thus been able to
measure fuel consumption directly. The British in their recent full-scale
burn-out tests have weighed individual fuel cribs and also in this way
the rate of fuel consumption. Fujita,* Kawagoe [14], Odeen [18], and
Heselden [22] have all attempted heat balance calculations on compartment fires. However, such calculations and measurements at best are
most difficult and tedious.
The concept of an instrument which could be used during experimental
fires to measure fire severity seems a most useful one. It could be
probably achieved through use of a steel shaft protected with light
weight insulation as suggested by Margaret Law and Butcher [26]. Such
columns involving standardized low-density but relatively inert insulation could be placed within a compartment during a burn-out test.
Much smaller units, possibly of spherical shape, of course, could be
used for local measurements when an average over the compartment
height was not desired. The resulting temperature changes of the steel,
together with fire exposure temperatures, could aid in defining fire
severity.
It also seems likely that more adequate understanding of the nature
and character of the hazards involved with the use of fire protective
materials would result from measurement of physical properties as a
function of temperature. Thus, compressive tensile and flexural strength,
coefficient of expansion, and dilatometric transients (all as a function
of temperature) would provide useful guides of the likely problems
when such materials are to be used for fire protective coverings. This
has been recognized for some time by Harmathy [30] and others in
Canada as well as by investigators at the Portland Cement Association [31].
Improved tests of this type should be routine for subsidiary studies
in connection with standardized fire endurance tests. Thus if a wall-

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26

FIRE TEST PERFORMANCE

board reinforcing material is found to lose strength at a temperature


just slightly in excess of that to which it is exposed during a furnace test
of several hours, then this reinforcement may become the critical link in
determining the performance of the structure. Such a structure, when
exposed to an actual building fire which may develop temperatures
significantly above the furnace exposure, could be expected to show
failure after rather brief fire exposure.
Before concluding the discussion of temperature history as an indication of fire severity it seems important to mention two problems related
to experimental techniques:
First, the question of the influence of flame emissivity and size in heat
transfer to the specimen during furnace tests has not been studied well
enough. There is at present a rather general agreement by technical
people in Europe that the large luminous flames in use in some of the
laboratories result in much more severe thermal exposure of specimens
than that provided by premixed gas flames used at other laboratories.
It seems likely that this is true during the early portions of a laboratory
test. However, apart from the British reports [26, 27] in which comparisons were made between furnace and compartment fire tests, there
appears to be little published information relative to this problem.
Second, the way in which temperature measurements are made during
fire experiments may alter significantly their usefulness in making comparisons with other data. The fire test method, ASTM Methods E 119-67,
makes use of furnace thermocouples which have a time constant of
about 6 min at 800 C, as determined in one of the small furnaces at the
NBS and under prevailing convection conditions. Thermocouples of this
type always were used by Ingberg at NBS during his building fire
studies. As a result, his measurement techniques were consistent and
comparisons justified. However, almost all other known building fire
temperature measurements have been made with either bare thermocouples or short-time-constant shielded thermocouples which much more
closely followed actual fire conditions. The lag in temperature indication
under the transient heating conditions in the first 10 to 15 min of a
fire may be very significant. When the ASTM Methods E 119 thermocouples are used a difference of 100 C (180 F ) or more should be
expected. Future experimental building fire tests should make use of
sufficient ASTM Methods E 119 thermocouples to ensure that some
confidence can be achieved in comparing results with furnace test
conditions.
The irradiance measured at a distance from openings in the shell of
a building during a fire is of great importance in defining severity with
respect to ignition and spread of fire to neighboring structures. A good

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ROBERTSON AND GROSS ON LOAD, SEVERITY, AND ENDURANCE

27

start has been made in understanding factors influencing such irradiance


behavior. However most of the work has been done under conditions
involving only a single floor or building compartment. The effects of
winds and vertical ventilation of the building are suggested by the work
in Canada [28]. More work in this area is necessary, together with
investigation of the influence of compartment properties and fuel display
variables on the radiant severity of the fire. In making such studies
research workers must remember that the radiometers used in many cases
will not be looking at a plane object. The configuration factors involved
with the three dimensional flames may differ greatly depending on the
viewing direction.
Conclusions
This review of the developing understanding of fires in compartments
or buildings has indicated some of the complexity of the problem. It
suggests the following conclusions:
1. The occupancy fire load itself, though important, does not always
exert controlling influence on the character of the fire that may develop.
2. The geometry and arrangement of fuel display may exert a strong
influence on the character of fire behavior.
3. The availability of an oxidizer near the fuel emphasizes the major
role played by ventilation in influencing fire severity.
4. It follows that fuel, fuel display variables, and character of ventilation together exert a controlling influence on fire behavior.
5. There is increased awareness of the importance of relating fuel
load to a ventilation parameter when estimating the character of fire
which could develop in a particular building.
6. Fire severity is not a well-defined term since the damage done by a
fire is dependent on the thermophysical properties of the exposed materials or constructions. Thus changing trends in building construction
involving modification in materials and architectural design features
such as window sizes may change significantly the nature of fire damage.
7. Research to date has only started to clarify the importance of fuel
display variables, thermal and geometrical properties of the enclosure,
and ventilation parameters in afteeting fire behavior. Much more work
is needed on these aspects of the problem.
Acknowledgment
This being primarily a review paper, the authors are indebted to the
many workers referenced for the data on which the paper is based.
Figures 4, 5, 6, and 9 are Crown Copyright and reproduced, by permission of the controller. Her Britannic Majesty's Stationery OflSce.

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28

FIRE TEST PERFORMANCE

References
[i] Ingberg, S. H. et al, "Fire Tests of Building Columns," Technologic Papers,
National Bureau of Standards, No. 184, April 1921.
[2] "Intensity and Duration of Fires," Technical News Bulletin, National Bureau
of Standards, No. 68, Dee. 1922.
[3] "Intensity and Duration of Fires in Buildings," Technical News Bulletin, National Bureau of Standards, No. 114, Oct. 1926, pp. 10-11.
[4] "Intensity and Duration of Building Fires," Technical News Bulletin, National
Bureau of Standards, No. 116, Dec. 1926, pp. 5-8.
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Association, Vol. 19, No. 3, Jan. 1926, pp. 234-237.
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[11] Kawagoe, K., "Fire Behavior in Rooms," Report No. 27, Building Research
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[12] Kawagoe, K. and Sekine T., "Estimation of Fire Temperature-Time Curve in
Rooms," Occasional Report No. 11, Building Research Institute, Japan, June
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[13] Kawagoe, K. and Sekine, T., "Estimation of Fire Temperature-Time Curve in
Rooms, Second Report," Occasional Report No. 17, Building Research Institute,
Japan, March 1964.
[14] Kawagoe, K., "Estimation of Fire Temperature-Time Curve in Rooms, third
report," Research Paper No. 29, Building Research Institute, Japan, 29 Oct.
1967.
[15] Thomas, P. H., "Research on Fire Using Models," Institute of Fire Engineers
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[16] Gross, D. and Robertson, A. F., "Experimental Fires in Enclosures," Tenth
Symposium (International) on Combustion, Combustion Institute, Pittsburgh,
1965, pp. 931-42.
[17] Thomas, P. H. and Heselden, A. J. M., "Fully-Developed Compartment Fires
Two Kinds of Behavior," Fire Research Technical Paper No. 18, Her Majesty's
Stationery Office, 1967.
[18] Odeen, K., "Theoretical Study of Fire Characteristics in Enclosed Spaces,"
Bulletin No. 10, Division of Building Construction, Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, 1963.
[19] Odeen, K., "Experimentellt och Theoretiskt Studium an Brandforlapp i Byggnader" (Experimental and Theoretical study of Fire Characteristics in Enclosed
Spaces), Report 23/68, National Swedish Institute for Building Research, 1968.
[20] Butcher, E. G., Chitty, T. B., and Ashton, L. A., "The Temperature Attained
by Steel in Building Fires," Fire Research Technical Paper No. 15, Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1966.
[21] Butcher, E. G., Bedford, G. K., and Fardell, P. J., "Further Experiments and
Temperatures Reached by Steel in Building Fires," Behavior of Structural
Steel in Fire Symposium No. 2, Proceedings of a symposium held at the Fire
Research Station, Boieham Wood, Herts, on 24 Jan. 1967, Her Majesty's
Stationery Office, 1968, pp. 2-17.

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ROBERTSON A N D GROSS ON LOAD, SEVERITY, AND ENDURANCE

29

[22] Heselden, A. J. M., "Parameters Determining the Severity of Fire," Behavior


of Structural Steel in Fire Symposium No. 2, Proceedings of a symposium held
at the Fire Research Station, Boreham Woods, Herts, on 24 Jan. 1967, Her
Majesty's Stationery Office, 1968, pp. 20-27.
[23] Law, Margaret, "Radiation from Fires in a Compartment," Fire Research Technical Paper No. 20, Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1968.
[24] Gross, D., "Experiments on the Burning of Cross Piles of Wood," Journal of
Research, National Bureau of Standards, Vol. 66C, No. 2, April-June 1962, pp.
99-105.
[25] Seigel, L. G., "The Severity of Fires in Steel Framed Buildings," Behavior of
Structural Steel in Fire Symposium No. 2, Proceedings of a Symposium held
at the Fire Research Station, Boreham Wood, Herts, on 24 Jan. 1967, Her
Majesty's Stationery Office, 1968, pp. 59-63.
[26] Butcher, E. G. and Law, Margaret, "Comparison Between Furnace Tests and
Experimental Fires," Behavior of Structural Steel in Fire Symposium No. 2,
Proceedings of a Symposium held at the Fire Research Station, Boreham Wood,
Herts, on 24 Jan. 1967, Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1968, pp. 46-55.
[27] Law, Margaret, "Analysis of Some Results of Experimental Fires," Behavior
of Structural Steel in Fire Symposium No. 2, Proceedings of a symposium held
at the Fire Research Station, Boreham Wood, Herts, on 24 Jan. 1967, Her
Majesty's Stationery Office, 1968, pp. 31-43.
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