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Townhouse Fire Could Alter Landscaping Rules

Posted September 5, 2007

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— Local and state officials are considering changes to landscaping around homes and businesses, based on a consultant's examination of a massive fire at a townhouse complex.

After a discarded cigarette sparked a Feb. 22 fire that destroyed 30 townhouses in the Pine Knoll Townes complex, the city paid an independent consultant $17,000 to study the fire and possible changes to city building codes.

"We never want to see that kind of fire again," Mayor Charles Meeker said.

A report issued by the consultant last Friday described how the blaze bypassed firewalls between units in the complex by passing through the attics.

"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 report also recommended two changes to the building code:

  • Requiring that combustible material, including pine straw, be placed at least 10 feet away from residences.
  • Making soffits – the paneling on the underside of eaves – fire resistant.

The report suggested that the Pine Knolls Townes fire might have been less severe if those requirements had been in place.

The state Building Code Council temporarily banned combustible soffit materials after the Pine Knoll Townes fire, and the panel is expected to make the ban permanent at its next meeting.

City Council members said Wednesday they would like the Raleigh Fire Department to file its own report on the consultant's findings and recommendations, noting they would discuss both reports at their next meeting.

"It's imperative to look at the things we can control because there are so many things that we can't," Raleigh Fire Chief John McGrath said.

The report suggested using large pine bark as a mulch because it is the least flammable of the four most common mulches. Flames spread 95 percent more slowly through it than than through pine straw, the report said.

Smaller pine bark and cypress mulch also are less combustible than pine straw, the report said.


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  • momof2 Sep 6, 2007

    Combustible material--that could include pinestraw, shrubs, grass, flowers, trees, patio furniture, rocking chairs, toys...I guess we could build townhomes and apartments with slabs of concrete 10 feet all the way around the buildings. All buildings could be built with cinder blocks or brick---no hardiplank. Sounds beautiful!

  • haggis basher Sep 6, 2007

    " Mandates added to mandates increase the price of building over time and eventually places hope ownership out of reach for some buyers."

    The added cost of proper fire resistant siding and soffits adds little cost delta. No house should catch fire from one across a wide street no matter how windy and dry it is. This sort of thing does not happen in UK (of course its not often dry there either :)

  • TechRescue Sep 6, 2007

    "I'm a little confused as to why $17,000.00 was paid for a private consultant to investigate the cause."

    I'm not. People at this point are no doubt trying to figure out how to sue somebody. A report from the Fire Department, whose job it was to put the fire out, would be seen as biased and self-serving. The city might have jumped the gun a bit, but it built a solid base to discourage any legal action.

    Don't think an anti-smoking campaign will fix this. It could just as easily been caused by fireworks, a grill, or a fire in any of the units. The problem is that the builders and the people who regulate them are more concerned about profitability than human lives or property. It won't change until we demand changes and start kicking people out of office who spend more time looking at their bank statements than what's right.

  • accept grace Sep 5, 2007

    How ridiculous to hire a consultant. The fire was started by a cigarette that a person failed to extinguish. Duh.... it spread quickly because of close proximity of buildings and the wind that day. Does anyone utilize their common sense anymore?

  • Wizard Sep 5, 2007

    I'm a little confused as to why $17,000.00 was paid for a private consultant to investigate the cause. Didn't the city trust the fire deptment? Don't they trust city inspections? Finally couldn't that money been better spent on fire equipment or training?
    I'm hoping there was more to the report than what has been published. So far there's no finding that a general contractor having passed the building code exam should've been able to cite.

  • mooremotox Sep 5, 2007

    ? How many tickets have been issued for people throwing out cigarette's? This is throwing out litter. I see people doing this all the time. No one in my house smokes and yet, I pick up cigarette's in front of my house all the time. I see people throwing them out car windows. This is littering. There is suppose to be a fine for this.
    I have pinestaw around my home. It keeps the ground moist and guess what, I have not had to water my bushes, not one time this year and they are beautiful and green.
    WRAL, please focus more on cigarette littering.

  • JQ Public Sep 5, 2007

    Use the tools available in "Firewise Communities" to fire proof the landscaping. It doesn't cost any more, maybe less! Saves water, too!

  • fl2nc2ca2md2nc Sep 5, 2007

    Well, I'm glad to say that I'm no smoker. But if you want to go down that road, we'd better outlaw cooking, electricity, & heat because they cause more fires than smoking does...

    The leading causes of fires:
    Hazard #1 Distractions in the Kitchen
    Hazard #2 Electrical Problems
    Hazard #3 Fireplaces and Chimneys
    Hazard #4 Central Heating
    Hazard #5 Kerosene Space Heaters
    Hazard #6 Smoking Hazard #7 Wildfires Hazard #8 Children Hazard #9 Candles Hazard #10 Extension Cords

    There's a quote that I really like that goes something like..."the government's business stops at my property line..."

  • swc Sep 5, 2007

    All the new recommendations are great and will hopefully save lives; but it all comes down to smoking a cigarette. When are we going to wake up and stop supporting the tobacco industry. Between the cancer and the fires, I think it's about time to quit.

  • ladyblue Sep 5, 2007

    Authorities said a discarded cigarette sparked the Feb. 22, 2007, fire that destroyed 38 homes in the Pine Knoll Townes neighborhood.