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Townhome Fire Report Recommends Changes

Posted September 4, 2007

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— A report commissioned after one of the largest fires in Raleigh's history recommends changes to the city's building codes.

City Council members have received the report, which cost $17,000, and plan to discuss it at their meeting on Wednesday. Council members will then discuss the document with the state fire marshal.

Independent fire-safety experts reviewed aerial footage and the results of the Raleigh Fire Department's probe into the Feb. 22, 2007, fire. That blaze ripped through the Pine Knolls Townes townhouse complex in north Raleigh, destroying or damaging 38 units.

The report recommends two primary changes to the city's building codes:

  • requiring that combustible material, including pine straw, be placed at least 10 feet away from residences.
  • making soffits, or the paneling underneath buildings' gutters, fire resistant.

The report suggests that the Pine Knolls Townes fire might have been less severe if those changes had been in place. Investigators said the fire was caused by "carelessly discarded smoking material" and determined that the developer had followed existing codes.

A cigarette carelessly discarded in pine straw and shrubs also caused a fire at Bolinwood Apartments in Chapel Hill on Saturday. That fire displaced four families and caused $50,000 worth of damage.

The report details the movement of the Pine Knoll Townes fire, blown into an inferno by high winds, as it took just minutes to move from townhouse to townhouse.

"The fire was not your typical one that starts inside a building and burns a building down," Councilman Russ Stephenson said. "When the fires are coming from the attic and sweeping up into the attics, it's a different kind of threat."

The fire bypassed firewalls altogether and passed through the attics, according to the report.

"It went right around the firewall and jumped into the attic of the next unit," Stephenson said.

Residents of Pine Knoll Townes said the report comes as the neighborhood makes significant progress in rebuilding.

"(The report) seems like a good idea. It's nice to see they're looking out for us," Mark Coffey, a fire victim, said.


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  • Builder Sep 4, 2007

    $17,000 for those two recommendations? What a rip off. Any one could have figured that out, except the city council of course.

  • RaleighMan Sep 4, 2007

    Firewalls don't STOP fires, they slow the spread of fires. They are a life safety instrument...not a property protector. They give inhabitants more time to get out. Why do you think firewalls are rated by hours? B/c eventually, they burn too!

    I agree with the ignorance education idea. There's no possible way to idiot proof the world.

  • shunpiker Sep 4, 2007

    Yes, wasn't the cause of this fire a carelessly discarded smoking object? Maybe we should spend the resources and money on fighting the ignorance. This fire (and others) would have never been started if someone had used their head or, at least, used their ashtray instead of their window. Instead of forcing builders to spend the money in upgrading these materials... couldn't we spend some on education?

    Oh, and why doesn't WRAL help with the education? Every time WRAL runs this story (or any fire or dry-weather related story) they could say, "And remember, it's dry out there, so make sure your cigarettes are out". Or I'm sure their writers could come up with something more eloquent. And now what is that.. maybe 10 extra seconds of WRAL air time? Is our community worth that? I think it is.

    Cheers, -john

  • I know some stuff Sep 4, 2007

    where do I sign up to be a consultant?? $17,000 for that conclusion.
    Don't pile flammable material beside the building, and improve firewall standards so that they extend above the attic. FREE. Many contributors to the post offered intelligent suggestions.
    The 'authorities' should be ashamed of themselves. First for not being bright enough to see the 'need', then for paying $17k to be told the obvious.

  • Fletcher Sep 4, 2007

    Good call mooremotox! B/c some idiot threw a cigarette in some pinestraw we will have MORE legislation. Is ten feet far enough away from the house? What about the grass? Maybe it should be ten feet away as well. Let's just dig a moat around all townhomes. Would that do it?

  • JQ Public Sep 4, 2007

    The guidelines for "Firewise Communities" is not only economical but makes since. It takes in account for the careless cigarette smoker through cheaper landscaping techniques.

  • mooremotox Sep 4, 2007

    It wasn't the pinestraw that started this fire! It was the fool that threw a cigarette into the pinestraw. So why are they going to punish the landscapers and hurt their business because of a thoughtless/careless cigarette smoker!

  • PikeMom Sep 4, 2007

    If they did all this,then wouldn't some people cry that we are not building "affordable housing"?

  • JQ Public Sep 4, 2007

    It is very obvious that developers do not read or follow the guidelines written in "Firewise Communities". Build it and they will buy it! If you get a chance read the research paper "Development At the Wildland-Urban Interface and the Mitigation of Forest-fire Risk" by Vassilis Spryratos, Patrick S. Bourgeron and Michael Ghil. It will open your eyes to what is happening in the development community!

  • GulfWarVet Sep 4, 2007

    Just because developers CAN build hundreds of units within close proximity to one another doesn't mean they should for multiple reasons. Cookie cutter outfits stamping holes in our already strained water shed limits water availability during normal situations, but also impedes the area's natural ability to handle large weather events as efficiently. But, furhter in cases as this story, they become HAZARDS to the entire region when they burn. They have biodegradeable water soluable products out west they spray on homes to prevent/limit structural burning during forest fires.

    I feel it is the developer's responsibility to have such systems employed at a community level to prevent widespread losses, if they're gonna continue using highly flamable building materials and landscapes. When such a fire erupts, crews could spray down adjacent structures to prevent their damage/loss.