This study investigates the use of integral, hybrid intumescent thermal barriers (mats) to provide surface protection to the core fibre-reinforced polyester composite structural integrity when exposed to a fire or heat source. Glass fibre-reinforced composites protected by intumescent mats/fabrics containing silicate fibres, expandable graphite and in some cases borosilicate glass bounded together by an organic matrix have been evaluated for fire performance under a constant heat flux of 50kW/m2. The effect of insulative fabric thickness as well as chemical composition on the flammability of the resultant hybrid composites is evaluated. Glass fibre-reinforced polyester (GRP) composites without any surface protection have a relatively higher time-to-ignition and peak heat release rate values when compared with core composites protected by insulative fabrics. Thermograms representing the variation of temperature on the reverse side of the hybrid composites with time when exposed to a constant heat flux show that the inclusion of intumescent surface barriers results in retarded temperature increments within the core GRP composites. Copyright © 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.