Published 1 September 2015

I’m happy to announce that today I signed the documentation for the claim to be processed… it only took 6.x weeks.. Oh, and an independent Fire Investigation Report that I submitted to the insurance company. I guess it’s hard to argue that it was NOT a fire, when the professional forensic fire investigator points out that this was a “fire” in EVERY definition of the word… You can read the comprehensive report here.

On Thursday 27 Aug, we had the stove (fire place as we call it), moved – this is a prerequisite before any repair work can be undertaken… My sincerest thanks to Italfire, who came to the party and shared the cost of the relocation.  They used an independent contractor, Handorf, who are a very professional outfit, and highly recommended – thanks Daniel!

ceilingImage 35: Now we can get going on repairing the roof trusses and the hole in the ceiling, where the fire place used to be...
Flute_insulation2Image 34: The flue changes into a double insulated pipe before it enters the ceiling.  Then, once in the roof cavity, the double insulated flue is also encapsulated in a fire retardant box enclosure...
Flute_outside2Image 33: The outside install *almost* complies to the SABS SANS 10400-V regulation. It states that: "The height of a chimney outlet shall be not less than 1 m above the highest point of contact between such chimney and the roof". ...But, I'm going to let those 2cm slide... ;-)

Published 5 August 2015

I am at a loss for words… Today, 2 days shy of 3 weeks after the incident, and after several mails and prompts from both myself and my insurance brokers, the assessor of the insurance company (Mutual & Federal) finally replied with the following:

Subject: 122098274
Date: Wed, 5 Aug 2015 14:32:43 +0200
From: Brian Jumat <Brian.Jumat@mf.co.za>

Good day Mr Thiel
We acknowledge receipt of your various e-mails and note the contents thereof.
We are still of the opinion that "scorching" had occurred over a period of time which is considered to be gradual.
The policy cover losses due to fire and in this instance there appears to be no evidence that "ignition" had taken place.
In the circumstances we regret to advise that this would not be considered as a claim.
Kind regards


Some comments:

1. Wood Ash seems to be a *VERY* good thermal insulator (http://erepository.uonbi.ac.ke/handle/11295/22920 : 1987 paper, University of Nairobi that found it to be in the same order of magnitude as vermiculite (one of the most common thermal insulators)). Thus if this damage was ” “scorching” had occurred over a period of time which is considered to be gradual“, as suggested by the assessor, Mr Brian Jumat, and one takes into account that we did not use the fire place for several days (actually the previous weekend if memory serves me correctly) prior to the day of the incident, then one can assume that some portion of the wood, closest to the heat source, would have already been turned to Wood Ash (which after days of around 10degC ambient, would have formed a really good thermal insulator between the heat source and the remaining wood structure)… Thus making it highly unlikely, to near impossible to get any scorching induced in the remaining wood even with only a couple of centimetres of wood-ash forming the barrier between the heat source and the remaining wood structure…

2. Further, if one assumes that tempo of propagation of the smouldering is 0.1mm/second (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smouldering), then in the period from starting the fire in our fireplace the previous evening, to when we discovered the initial symptoms (No Satellite TV signal), which was about 14 hours, the theoretical distance of propagation could have been 14*60*60*0.1 = 5040mm, which is 5 metres… Thus is it QUITE POSSIBLE that the complete damage could have occurred in that time period (pls. reference Image 27 for dimensions), even if one considers that it is treated wood, it only needed to “burn” around 1 meter…

3. Given the fact that the complete section that “burned” was covered in fire-retardant material (see images 1, 2 &3 and compare to images 10, 15 & 27) , it is quite conceivable that the fire-retardant material suppressed the “ignition” that the insurance company so desperately requires to deem this “fire damage”…


Published 18 July 2015

After getting up on Friday 17 July 2015, my wife, who normally switches on the TV for background noise, noticed that the DSTV had no signal.  It was raining *very* hard all night (and still at that time), so we assumed it to be a lack of signal, commonly associated with bad weather..

Later that day my wife phoned to tell me that the Alarm is also malfunctioning.

I thought the combination was suspicious (although I had suspected a water/leak related reason for the problem at the time) and headed home to investigate. Once I was home, early afternoon, I inspected the roof and found the fire damage, including a bunch of alarm and satellite TV cables that are melted into a solidified bunch (Image 7).

Although we had used the fire place a couple of times prior to the previous evening (we only moved in, in December and we had an unusually warm autumn),  this was the first really cold spell we were having and I wanted to see wether we could heat the living space to a comfortable temperature.

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 Image 2.
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 Image 3.

I wanted to remove the insulation to inspect the damage, as well as make sure that the scene was safe and no longer a fire hazard. Upon inspection it became apparent that there were no longer ANY wooden beams inside the insulation. It only contained ash.

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 Image 8.
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 Image 9.
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 Image 10

Above images 9 & 10 are the same, with Image 10 indicating the burnt wooden beams. One can see that the tips of the horizontal beam have had fire damage for an estimated foot length either side of the chimney (yellow lines). One also sees that the diagonal beam of the roof truss (red line), has burnt right to the main truss beam, and both structural support beams (orange lines) that held the horizontal beam  in place, were destroyed.

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 Image 11

Above and below, visible burn mark around the nail that holds the ceiling board to the ceiling slat (that no longer exists)

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 Image 12
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 Image 13

The Superior Micaela Wood-Log Fireplace, whose installation is at the heart of the issue… According to the previous owner of the house, the fireplace was apparently purchased from and installed by Italfire (www.italfire.co.za), based in Bellville.

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 Image 14
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 Image 15

Above you can see the fire-retardant wool I removed and put to the side. Inside is only ash… (reference Image 10 & Image 29).

Images 16 – 23 have no real relevance to the fire damage, I only documented the (rather shocking) installation…

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 Image 16
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 Image 24


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 Image 25

I think the images speak for themselves…

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 Image 26

From the above picture one can see that the gully would also be a problem in the position where the flute enters the ceiling…

Below are some dimensions (in mm) to give an idea of the distances…

 Image 27

Below is the Satellite Cable Combiner that I removed after repairing the melted and fused cables – it definitely saw some heat… The original location of the combiner can be seen in Image 5.

 Image 28

Below is the ash-filled fire-retardant material that originally was wrapped around the wooden sections that are now burnt away. The original position of this fire retardant material (before I removed it) can be seen in Images 1, 2 & 3. This material was not unwrapped – it is still the way I found it -I simply picked it up and placed it down. It contains no trace of any solid (wood) filling… that that is inside is fine grey wood ash!

 Image 29
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 Image 30

Images 30 & 31 show the melted plastic (between roof structure and tiles). This plastic is roughly 100mm above the wooden rafter.

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 Image 31

Image 32 is the same as image 27, just without the dimensions…

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 Image 32