Testing critical infrastructure in extreme fire

Volume 18, Number 2

Extreme fire testing facility at NRC

Fires in critical infrastructure are not only a hazard when they occur, but continue to be a risk to public safety when the damaged structures—such as bridges and tunnels—are left standing.

There is currently a lack of knowledge and understanding of the effects of extreme fires on critical infrastructures. There are also no guidelines on effective materials or structural technologies for extreme fire protection. To carry out such research and development, lab facilities with the capability of testing materials and structures in extreme fire are needed.

NRC, in partnership with Defence Research and Development Canada and Transport Canada, recently carried out a research project to better understand the effect of extreme fire on critical concrete infrastructure. It involved conducting commissioning tests of reinforced concrete columns in extreme fires in NRC’s newly upgraded fire facilities.

For this project, tests simulated large hydrocarbon pool fires. These extreme fires can occur when a flammable liquid leaks from a vessel or storage unit to form a fluid reservoir, which could then ignite. A hydrocarbon pool fire can generate temperatures of more than 1100⁰ Celsius within 5 minutes of ignition with heat fluxes of around 150 kW/m2.

The performance of the tested concrete columns in extreme fires has established the crucial need to develop new technologies and tools for the fire protection of critical infrastructures such as bridges and tunnels. The test results demonstrated that NRC fire facilities are capable of simulating extreme fires to evaluate and develop such protection technologies.

NRC fire-testing facilities

Until recently, Canadian manufacturers of construction and fire protection materials were using facilities overseas for testing and developing extreme fire protection technologies. Thanks to recent upgrades to NRC facilities, Canadian industry now has access to extreme fire testing facilities in Canada.

Equipped with full-, intermediate- and small-scale furnace testing labs as well as a large-scale burn hall, NRC fire testing facilities—in addition to testing building fires—can be used for testing critical infrastructure elements in extreme fires. The intermediate-scale floor furnace, wall furnace and full-scale column furnace have already been upgraded and commissioned for testing critical infrastructure elements (e.g., tunnel lining and bridge/building columns) in extreme fires. Upgrades to other furnaces are in the planning stage.

For more information

Contact Hossein Mostafaei at hossein.mostafaei@nrc-cnrc.gc.ca or 613-993-9729.