One of the most widely accepted fire testing methods is ASTM E84 (Surface Burning Characteristics of Building Materials), also commonly referred to as the "tunnel test." It is used to evaluate the flame spread characteristics of surface materials along with the smoke produced by combustion.
History of E84
E84 was introduced around 1922 to evaluate "whitewash" coatings that were being heavily promoted at the time. Currently, the method is used on virtually all surface materials used in buildings and other structures that require acceptance from national code bodies.
In the tragic 1942 Boston Coconut Grove nightclub fire and the more recent Station nightclub fire in Rhode Island in 2003, which killed 100 and injured 230, it was noted that both exhibited the same type of flame spread escalation that is attempted to be re-created in the tunnel test. This demonstrates how extremely important the test is for protecting life safety.
The Steiner Tunnel
The tunnel itself has been designated the "Steiner Tunnel" after Albert J. Steiner, an engineer who had spent much time developing this and other fire test methods. The 2-ft.-by-24-ft.-long horizontal tunnel is a closely controlled environment to ensure repeatable test results. Red oak and cement board are utilized as reference standards in its calibration. In addition to ASTM E84, corresponding test standards include NFPA 255, UL 723, and UBC 8-1.