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Townhome Fire Report Recommends Changes

Six months after one of Raleigh's largest fires, a report recommends changes to the building code to prevent more apartment and townhome fires.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — 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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 Credits

Erin Coleman, Reporter
Bobbie Eng, Photographer
Anne Johnson, Web Editor

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