Holy smoke, but it’s not cathedral up in flames

Norwich RC Cathedral is not on fire - it's just got a new heating system

An eco-friendly new heating system at Norwich's Roman Catholic Cathedral has proved to have an unexpected drawback.

Whenever the new biomass boiler that has been installed at St John's is on or being turned off, it produces steam that looks like smoke when it comes out of a chimneys in one of the spires.

This had led to several call-outs for the Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service to the cathedral in Earlham Road to put out what passers-by and motorists think is a fire.

The last occasion was on Tuesday at about 3pm when a fire crew was forced to make another unnecessary journey to the cathedral.

The situation has prompted both the cathedral and the fire service to make people aware of the situation.

The Rev Patrick Limacher, deacon at the cathedral, admitted that, while its new heating system was reducing its carbon footprint, it had an unwelcome side-effect.

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He said: 'It's an eco-friendly system that uses biomass fuel (wood chippings) from a local source.

'It means that we have eliminated three gas meters, and it's heating the cathedral better than ever.

'But when the system is on or being turned off, steam comes out of the exhaust chimney of the cathedral. This chimney is one of the spires on the west end of the cathedral, and does not look like a chimney, and the steam looks like smoke when it comes out.

'People driving or walking by have seen it and have phoned the fire service three or four times believing that the cathedral is on fire.'

He said the steam was clearly visible to passers-by and motorists in Earlham Road and was most pronounced on cold mornings.

He said: 'The heating system automatically comes on every 30 minutes and it brings up the temperature and then cools. It happens about seven to eight times a day. The problem is that as it gets colder, the steam is going to be seen more clearly.'

Meanwhile, the Dean, Father James Walsh, said he would like to reassure the public that the cathedral had an effective fire detection system which covered the whole building.

The new heating system was installed earlier this year after a flood in the cellar disabled two of the former gas-fired boilers.

Father Walsh said the new system has proved to be an extremely efficient and cost-effective means of heating a large space.

He added: 'For the first time in its history the congregation at St John's no longer has to endure Arctic temperatures when they come to church in the winter months. Throughout the week there is a constant gentle heat in the building which can be raised to a comfortable level at weekends.'

Martin Barsby, spokesman for the Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service, confirmed that crews had made several pointless journeys to the cathedral.

He said: 'We have been called on a number of occasions to the Roman Catholic Cathedral over the past few weeks, and would like to thank the public for their vigilance.

'We have been talking to the cathedral over this matter and would ask people to be aware of the situation.

'Having said that, if an individual is in any doubt we would still urge them to call 999.'

Father Walsh said that the 'eco-friendly'' nature of the heating has attracted substantial grants, including one from the East of England Development Agency and another from Bio-energy Capital Grants Scheme, without which it would not have been possible.