Column: Major fires will always lead to big questions

Investigators at the Notre Dame Cathedral / Picture: Getty Images
Investigators at the Notre Dame Cathedral / Picture: Getty Images

Few fires shock the world.

Everyone knows about the Great Fire of London and depending on your age it may be that the Hindenburg airship disaster or Bradford Stadium fire is a vivid memory.

Grenfell will certainly be remembered because of the huge loss of life – and now there is Notre Dame.

Fortunately, no one was inside at the time (although a firefighter was seriously injured fighting the blaze) but with such an iconic building the shock was palpable.

I was in France at the time of the fire and the emotional tie of the building to the French was obvious.

Aside from the emotion, the cause of the fire has understandably received much speculation.

It will probably be some time before we know for sure, but the French authorities are likely to establish the exact cause and with such a high-profile case, they will go to great lengths to ensure they do.

But it is not just high-profile cases: forensic investigations are the norm in any major fire.

In such cases, investigators will mainly be concerned about any criminality and generic lessons that could be learned to prevent recurrences, but insurers will usually also appoint independent forensic specialists.

They, too, are interested in any evidence that points to criminality (particularly arson) or whether a policyholder has complied with or breached policy conditions.

They would also be concerned with whether there were any grounds for a recovery (known as subrogation) against another party.

And finally, the benefit of forensic investigations can be seen from the Government’s recent decision to serve Whirlpool with a recall notice of up to 500,000 tumble dryers that pose a fire safety risk, following investigations into fires.