In the early morning of 5 September 1986 a severe fire
swept through the Hotel Caledonian in Kristiansand in the
south of Norway. The fire resulted in the death of fourteen
guests and injury to fifty others.
The hotel was thought to be of fire-resisting construction
with good fire protection for guests. Staff were reportedly
well trained in fire precautions and fire drills were regularly
carried out. In the event, the fire
protection features of the hotel proved inadequate and staff
training not very effective. Estimated damage £3.8
The hotel, constructed in 1968, complied
with the building regulations in force at the time.
It also complied with the Norwegian Hotel Fire Precautions
Act 1963 which, among other requirements, ordered
that the entire premises be protected by an automatic
fire alarm system. Unfortunately, the system installed
comprised only heat-activated detectors but it did
have a direct link to the fire brigade. It was also
linked to a tape system which relayed information
to guests in case of fire.
The lower three storeys of the building contained
the reception area, restaurants, discotheques and
conference facilities. The third storey in the tower
housed the administration offices and the fourth to
storeys contained two hundred guest rooms.
On the night of the incident, there were 113 guests
in the hotel. Two night porters were on duty. At around
0440 hours the porter checking security was alerted
by the fire alarm. He immediately took the lift to
the first storey reception area where he was greeted
by flames and smoke in the vicinity of the stairwell.
Together with the other porter, he ran through the
restaurant into the street where both men found themselves
The fire brigade in Kristiansand did receive a telephone
call at 0440 hours with the message 'Fire in the reception
of Hotel Caledonian' and seconds later the automatic fire
message came through. The brigade responded by immediately.
On arriving at the hotel three minutes later, the firemen
were confronted by a very serious fire.
The emergency staircase led down to the reception area
which was aflame. The first firemen to arrive concentrated
their initial effort in this area as they believed that
the stairway was filled with trapped guests who could not
get through the burning reception area. However, the two
jets initially available proved no match for the intense
heat. It was also established that none of the guests had
reached the emergency stairs due to smoke logging of corridors
outside the bedrooms.
The fire spread rapidly and soon involved the first four
storeys of the hotel. Firemen began rescuing guests with
ladders, breathing apparatus teams entered the hotel through
broken windows to assist guests onto the ladders. Conditions
were extremely difficult with heavy smoke pouring from the
Some guests were alerted by the alarm bell in the corridors,
others were aroused by the automatic tape message. Those
who opened their doors were met by grey smoke apparently
coming from the ceiling.
Minutes later the smoke was heavy and black and the corridors
no longer accessible. Some guests reported that their bathrooms
were the first areas to be smoke logged.
The fire was thought to have been caused by an electrical
fault in the wiring to a ceiling lamp located in the stairway
between the first storey reception and the ground storey
The lower storeys were found to have been inadequately
compartmented, with gaps between fire resisting walls and
floors. The walls and ceilings had combustible linings which
assisted fire spread. In the early stages of the fire, smoke
spread through ventilation ducts in corridors near the lifts
to stream into guest bathrooms.