The Roof is On Fire

It seems our roof saga isn’t quite over after all.

The past few days have seen glorious weather after a month of cold. This weekend, the Meadows and tenement gardens of Edinburgh have been packed with people enjoying the sun and firing up their barbecues.

Yesterday at the end of the afternoon we heard someone clomping around on the roof over our kitchen. When I went up to the attic and looked through the window I saw a guy and a couple of girls settling down on a rug to enjoy the view, with only a metre or two of flat roof between them and a four-storey drop. They’d set up some sort of barbecue on our side of the roof. It all seemed ridiculously foolhardy, but I thought they might be our student neighbours and didn’t want to come across like their dad, so warned them to be careful and not to damage the roof we’ve just fixed, and left them to it.

Later on, after they’d packed up and gone, I looked out at the roof again and saw they’d left a flat board where the barbie had been... and had a horrible feeling about it.

So this morning I went up there myself, out on the roof for the first time, and retrieved what turned out to be one of those evil disposable barbecues they sell in Britain, along with the board they’d laid over the bit of the roof it had melted.

Roofing felt is made of cardboard and asphalt, which is made from crude oil. If you heat it up, say by putting a hot rectangle of aluminium foil directly onto it, it melts. If you heat it up too much, it can catch on fire. Never mind the blobby black mess they left there—they could have burned the whole building down.

We weren’t sure if they were actually our neighbours or from somewhere else on our block, because all the roofs join up and they could have walked along from the top of another stair. Fortunately, though, one of them had written the name of the perpetrator next to the mess using some of the molten pitch. On the off-chance I tried knocking on our neighbours’ door and asked for that name, and the sheepish bloke who answered turned out to be the culprit. In the cold light of morning he acknowledged it was a completely idiotic thing to do, and agreed to pay for the repair we’ve arranged with the roofers who were here in March. Hopefully it won’t cost too much to cut out and replace a 50cm square of felt, although we aren’t thrilled about introducing more seams and therefore potential leakage points into what was a brand-new roof.

The damage was probably done before I even saw them, but I was still wishing I’d been sterner at the time. Knowing what we know now, we should have called the fire brigade.

Those disposable barbecues have a lot to answer for. The Meadows will no doubt be covered in black rectangles of dead grass after this weekend. There’s no way Australian supermarkets would get away with selling them; but then, a lot of the British attitude to fire and sun makes an Aussie nervous. There are lots of sunburnt kids running around here now, while our boy complains about being forced to wear a hat and sunscreen. Yesterday, we were at an outdoor centre with him for a family day run by his nursery, where one guy demonstrated how to start your own fire. He was showing what a good spark a flint and steel can make, and handing out several for the kids to try—in an area covered in woodchips. It isn’t a problem here, really, because nothing is ever tinder-dry, but try that in Oz on a hot day and you could burn down half the state.

27 May 2012 · Journal

The roofers had a look today. The felt hasn’t melted, it’s burnt right through. They said the roof could indeed have caught on fire, and it’s lucky it didn’t. Makes the £180 repair bill seem like a bargain.

Added by Rory on 28 May 2012.

Our roofers patched up the damage efficiently a day or two later, and our sheepish neighbour dropped by yesterday with payment in full. Quite a contrast with getting the earlier repairs sorted out, and getting payment out of every neighbouring landlord.

Added by Rory on 4 June 2012.