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Fayetteville Fire Inspectors Shop for Violations

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FAYETTEVILLE — Stores are stacked high with holiday merchandise this time of year, but those would-be gifts could be dangerous or even deadly for shoppers.

A lot of businesses are so focused on having enough merchandise to meet the Christmas shopping demand, they forget to think about where they are actually going to put everything. As a result, stores can become fire hazards.

He is not your not typical Christmas shopper. Assistant Fire Marshall Roger Sullivan is not looking for bargains, he's looking for fire code violations.

"They're cramming all this Christmas stock in, and it's creating a hazard to exit the building," Sullivan said.

By law, the main aisles must be 42 inches wide and side aisles must have at least 36 inches of space. Fire exits must be clear of obstructions. In one stock room, the exit was blocked by boxes of toys, and there was not a clear pathway to the stock room that leads to the emergency exit.

The owner of one store says he does not mind the surprise inspection.

"The stock is heavier and it's in the aisles, so we need to keep the aisles open," store owner Gentry Hayes said. "We're bad ourselves sometimes."

At the other stores he visited, Sullivan found other minor violations, but he says he has warned several major retailers they are in serious violation of the fire code. It is only a warning this time, but in the month of December they will be fined.

"I think it's a good idea because you can accidentally overcrowd the aisles," customer Bud Culbreth said.

The fines for a safety violation can be hefty. The first offense for a blocked exit is $500. The second could cost business owners one $1,000.