A new flame spread apparatus for the measurement of flame spread rates at different ambient temperatures is presented. A 2-m long sample is pre-heated with air to the desired temperature and ignited from its lower end with a small propane burner. The flame spread is traced with thermocouples in contact with the sample surface. The features and function of the new apparatus are described, as well as series of vertical flame spread experiments on cylindrical birch rods and electrical cables made of polyvinylchloride (PVC) and flame retardant non-corrosive (FRNC) materials. Vertical flame spread rates 6–62 mm/s (temperature range 22–271 °C) were determined for birch samples, 3–24 mm/s (22–190 °C) for PVC cable samples, and 0–4 mm/s (22–293 °C) for FRNC cable samples. Small-scale experiments with thermogravimetric analysis and cone calorimeter were performed to characterize the sample materials in terms of their thermal and fire behaviour. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.