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Thawing after weekend freeze setting off sprinkler systems

Posted January 10

— Fayetteville firefighters have been busy the past couple of days – not because of fire, but because of ice. Sprinkler systems damaged by frozen pipes have kept them on the move.

Stewart's Creek Condominiums has one of more than two dozen buildings in Fayetteville that was damaged when frozen water pipes burst Monday and Tuesday. The damaged fire sprinkler system sent some of the ceiling and insulation in Condo 12 crashing to the floor.

Laneice Wilson, who lives next door, said she took precautions to keep her sprinkler system safe from the cold.

"The homeowners association does tell each unit to turn your heat on to at least 65 degrees to prevent the pipes from freezing," Wilson said.

The power was cut off to the vacant condo that was damaged, so there was no heat, authorities said.

An attic sprinkler system at The Kidney Center on Avon Street, near Cape Fear Valley Medical Center, also burst, and the main library in Hope Mills also suffered water damage when a thawing frozen pipe broke.

"Typically, the pipes in the roof are the ones that burst, so that's the worst-case scenario," said Battalion Chief Michael Martin of the Fayetteville Fire Department. "It affects third, second, first floor unless we get there fast enough to remedy the situation."

Plumbing experts say one way to protect pipes in extreme cold is to let water flow through a faucet to keep it moving through the pipes.

"Well, that works for plumping systems, but (in) sprinkler systems, the water doesn't flow," Martin said. "It waits for the fire. So, the only time you get a water flow is the unwanted fire in the apartment building."

Buildings with sprinkler systems need to have heat at all times during cold weather, he said, and the insulation has to be inspected and kept up-to-date.

"Insulation that's put in place 10 years ago collapses, so the insulation factor isn't as great as new insulation today," he said.

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