Industrial vacuum cleaner blamed for Cutty Sark blaze

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The blaze that caused £10m of damage to the Cutty Sark last year was sparked by an industrial vacuum cleaner on the ship, police said today.

The machine was being used to remove waste during restoration work on the historic tea clipper when the fire broke out in May.

Officials found that the equipment had been left running for a weekend before the fire broke out during the early hours of a Monday morning.

Nick Carey, of the London Fire Brigade, said the industrial vacuum cleaner had been used by workmen because it was equipped with a thermal cutout to prevent overheating.

However, investigators found that the Italian machine did not have the switch because it had been adapted to run on the lower power voltage used on UK building sites.

Carey said tests on an identical vacuum cleaner revealed that it caught fire if the plastic inlet hose became blocked.

Investigators condemned "dangerous work practices" by renovators and the failure of security staff to notice the blaze.

However, they stopped short of saying that the devastation could have been averted had the alarm been raised earlier.

Physical evidence and CCTV footage revealed that the fire began on the lower deck towards the stern of the ship, which is kept in a dry dock in Greenwich, south-east London.

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