Yes, but not often and not on the facts of Stannard (t/a Wyvern Tyres) v Gore, [2012] EWCA Civ 1248. To refresh your memory, a defendant will be liable for damage to a neighbouring property where (a) the defendant brings a dangerous thing onto his or her land, (b) the danger escapes onto the neighbour’s land and (c) the use the defendant has made of his or her land is ‘non-natural’. In this case, Stannard carried on business supplying and fitting vehicle tires, storing his supply of about 3,000 of them ‘haphazardly and untidily’ on part of his premises. Faulty wiring caused a fire to break out in Stannard’s workshop; it spread to the tires and ended up totally destroying both Stannard’s premises and those of his neighbour Gore. At first instance, Stannard was found not to have been negligent, but liable under the principles in Rylands v Fletcher (1868) LR 3 HL 330: a dangerous thing escaped from Stannard’s property, Stannard’s haphazard storage of the tires was inherently risky (given their ‘special fire risk quality’) and Stannard’s storage of the tires was non-natural in that it was disorderly and exceeded the capacity of a typical storage facility.  

The Court of Appeal agreed that there can be Rylands v Fletcher liability arising from a fire that starts on a neighbour’s property, but after providing a comprehensive review of the authorities, Ward LJ (with whom Etherton and Lewison LLJ agreed) concluded that recovery will be ‘very rare’. Under the rule in Rylands, it is the ‘thing’ brought onto the defendant’s land ‘which must escape, not the fire which was started or increased by the “thing”’. The defendant owner would need to have brought fire onto his or her land, either deliberately or negligently, for there to be Rylands liability – and starting a fire on one’s own land may in any event be an ordinary use of the land (and thus ‘natural’ for Rylands purposes). Stannard brought a large stock of tires onto his land, but tires are not in themselves exceptionally dangerous. The tires did not escape his land (although fire did), and keeping a large stock of tires for a tire-fitting business was not an unusual or extraordinary use. The claim had to fail. Lewison LJ noted that liability to a neighbour for accidental fire damage will arise only where the defendant is negligent in failing to prevent its spread.  

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