Tuesday, November 24, 1998 12:02:50 AM
From: GSBN@...,Txinfinet Incoming
Subject: Digest for 11/23/98
-> Re: Burning SB building in Mongolia
by "Martin Oehlmann" <martin.oehlmann@...>


Date: 23 Nov 1998 15:48:49 -0600
From: "Martin Oehlmann" <martin.oehlmann@...>
Subject: Re: Burning SB building in Mongolia

Hi Kelly,
great to hear things are settling again in Mongolia. It's such a wonderful
One way to reduce cable problems might be to concentrate alle energy lines
together in an energy block, built by stone, etc in the building. This might
be difficult in an existing design, however for the future it might be
worthwhile to reflect on it. This block might contain kitchen, bath/shower,
toilets, heating. The sb-house will be designed around it.
Water and electricity will arrive in that block without touching the bales.
Good luck,

- -----Oorspronkelijk bericht-----
Van: Lerner, Helmuth, McCandless <options@...>
Aan: (email address removed)<GSBN@...>
Datum: woensdag 11 november 1998 7:23
Onderwerp: Burning SB building in Mongolia

>Greetings All,
>Below is a report by Scott Christiansen on a fire that destroyed a brand
>SB clinic in Mongolia. Faulty wiring and straw in the ceiling seem to be
>main issues. Low quality workmanship and low quality materials are a fact
>life in Mongolia that we acknowledge while we train workers to higher
>standards. It's painful to bring our hard knocks to the table, but I hope
>can generate some good solutions that will allow the UNDP straw-building
>project to go forward.
>This is a VERY serious issue, with UNDP considering dropping all straw-bale
>projects and possible criminal charges, fines for ADRA, or jail for ADRA
>personnel (as those responsible for inspecting the buildings...) Scott
>needs all the support and input he can get both personally and
>professionally. I will forward all technical input to UNDP via Scott.
>Thanks in advance. Success has many fathers but failure is an orphan.
>In addition to ADRA's fire proofing options (see Scott's report below), my
>other alternatives are:
>1. spraying the bales down with a borax solution before they are installed
>this really enough fire proofing??),
>2. plastering both sides of the ceiling insulation bales (a bit heavy) or
>3. installing all the electrical in conduit (I'm waiting to hear from Scott
>conduit is available in Mongolia - it wasn't available last year when I was
>4. insulation of light straw clay is also an option, though it doesn't have
>much insulation value. Has anyone used light straw-clay as ceiling
>OK, folks wow me with your low-tech, inexpensive, fool-proof solutions to
>non-flammable ceiling insulation.
>Kelly Lerner
>Report on the Fire in Bagkhangai
>By Scott Christiansen, Director, ADRA/Mongolia
>10 November 1998
>On November 4 1998, at sometime preceding eight oiclock in the evening, a
>was started in the attic of new clinic building in the Bagkhangai District
>Ulaan Baatar. The clinic building had been built using the straw-bale
>super-insulating technique. The building had been built over the summer
>dedicated for use only about two months previously. On the morning of 6
>November, a survey team arrived in Bagkhangai to assess the damage. Three
>staff were part of this survey team, including Scott Christiansen, Country
>Director, Adam Obradovic, Straw-bale projects Coordinator, and
>straw-bale construction expert. When the team arrived at the site, all
>had been out for about 18 hours. In the time between the extinguishment of
>fire and the arrival of the team, considerable scavenging had taken place
>along with it considerable traffic had been through the building,
>the effort of determining the cause of damage.
>The cause of the fire is not known as of the writing of this report. The
>is, of course, a tragic loss. But it is also a learning opportunity and,
>coming as it does rather early in the number of buildings expected to be
>full advantage should be taken of this learning opportunity. Here is what
>know so far:
>1) The building burned as it was expected to. That may seem like a strange
>statement, but from the start it was expected that if a building should
>somehow burn, it would be a very slow, smouldering fire that would not be a
>threat to the people in the building. This proved to be the case in
>Bagkhangai. According to the (somewhat contradictory) eyewitness accounts,
>fire was first noticed at about 7 pm on the fourth of November. The first
>evidence was smoke inside the building. Alarmed, the staff removed all the
>people in the building. As there was still only smoke evident, they went
>in and proceeded to remove all the equipment and furniture. They even
>the photo-voltaic panel from the building. The fire proceeded to break out
>then slowly smoulder for 18 hours until it was extinguished.
>2) Only the unsheathed straw burned. The internal and external walls of
>building were virtually untouched by the fire. Though they were in some
>totally destroyed, it was not from fire but from firemen who were
>confounded by
>the challenge of fighting a smouldering fire. Inside the clinic, the paint
>the walls is not peeling from heat exposure, nor is it even blackened.
>plastic iCanadai stickers on the doors are still intact and unmelted. The
>straw that burned was the straw-bales in the ceiling insulation. Except
>the straw in the ceiling, the building performed exactly as expected in
>of fire resistance and safety. The plaster coating of straw for fire
>resistance and fire-proofing was totally vindicated. Because the straw in
>ceiling was the only weak link in an otherwise sound building, this
>will be the focus of design change discussions later in this report. It is
>perhaps germane to comment here that the nursing staff of the clinic was
>particularly grieved by the fire because the building was ibeautiful,
>and so warm!i
>3) The buildings need to be fool-proof. The first reports of the fire were
>totally inaccurate and only a first-hand inspection of the site proved
>Still, the misinformation may ultimately prove helpful; it was early
>that the person in charge of the stove had altered the chimney of the
>building. Had he done so, it may have displaced or removed the some of the
>fire-proofing measures that were in place at the time of construction.
>Ultimately, ADRA was not able to confirm or dispel the notion that the
>had been tampered with, though it seemed that the chimney and all itis
>mechanisms were in place. But the question was still raised: What will
>when future users make modifications to these buildings, such as heating
>electrical modifications? Electrical work, notorious even in the best
>buildings in Mongolia, will definitely be a hazard if future users decide
>make their own unskilled changes to the electrical systems. Thus, design
>changes should be made now with the assumption that the normal unsafe,
>hazardous electrical and heating systems usually found in Mongolia may
>well be employed in the future.
>4) The worst should be expected. As a corollary to the above, it should be
>expected that, with the combination of unsafe materials and low
>skill, the worst possible event will always take place in Mongolia. It
>be noted here that the building in question was built by an apparently
>and professional construction company, that the building was inspected
>11 or 12 times by ADRA (we lost count), and that the building was
>inspected by City Fire and Building Department officials as part of the
>construction process that the construction contractor was responsible for.
>building was a fourth-generation design that had a great deal of careful
>thinking behind it. The design came from a straw-bale architect with an
>international reputation. And yet the building failed. Therefore, the
>buildings must be re-designed not merely for maximum cost/safety
>but with the expectation in mind that the construction environment makes
>accidents extremely likely. To do so will minimize any chance of repetition
>the future.
>Design Changes:
>While a fire of some origin destroyed the building, it may be safe to
>that if there had been no straw in the ceiling, there would have been no
>significant fire event. The inescapable conclusion, therefore, is to
>the straw from the ceiling. Were this to be done, the best, if not only,
>to replace it with would be fiberglass. At this time the ADRA straw-bale
>experts are conducting a cost-analysis on this option. Fiberglass has the
>benefit of not only being an inflammable material, but it can also retard
>prevent fires where it coats flammable (such as wood) surfaces. When ADRA
>started designing straw-bale buildings in Mongolia, fiberglass was not
>available. There was also a philosophical bias toward using straw where
>possible because of the positive environmental impacts. Taking a pragmatic
>view, fiberglass in the ceiling instead of straw now makes sense. At this
>time, ADRA is reviewing the following design change options:
>1) Replace the straw in the ceiling with fiberglass.
>2) Reduce the size of the truss system and place trusses slightly closer
>together so the span will allow gypsum board to be screwed directly to
>without sagging.
>3) Place fiberglass directly on gypsum board to a depth of 15 cm (R-20
>4) Coat exposed bale-tops in walls with a mud slip before finishing (as a
>5) Make stove exhaust exit the building through a brick chimney.
>6) Provide further insulation to wiring where it comes in contact with
>Other design changes may be advanced following discussions with straw-bale
>experts around the world. ADRA suggests that any design changes
>into future buildings also be retrofitted onto existing buildings if
>The man who is in charge of keeping the stove lit and various other duties
>the clinic has been arrested and is in jail at this writing. The reason
>arrest was not given but it was presumed to be either for suspicion of
>negligence or suspicion of arson. The remote possibility of arson does not
>negate most of the conclusions and design changes suggested in this
>but only serves to confirm that buildings in Mongolia are under a variety
>threats and should be constructed in a very conservative way with maximum
>preventive measures applied.
>One World Design, International Design and Consulting
>925 Avis Drive
>El Cerrito, CA 94530
>510.528.3765 Fax 510.528.8763


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