Local News

Raleigh Fire Dept. Recommends Tougher Codes

Posted October 12, 2007 9:59 p.m. EDT
Updated October 13, 2007 7:39 a.m. EDT

— Eight months after a fire destroyed a townhouse complex, the city of Raleigh was preparing to adopt new, tougher building rules to prevent similar tragedies.

The wind-driven fire destroyed 38 townhouses in the Pine Knoll Townes complex off Capital Boulevard in north Raleigh on Feb. 22, 2007.

The Raleigh Fire Department recommended changes to the city's building codes after reviewing a report by independent fire-safety experts that was released in early September. The City Council was expected to discuss them on Tuesday, Oct. 16.

The proposed rules would require builders to use non-combustible material for soffits – the paneling on the underside of eaves – and a certain type of vinyl siding designed to slow the spread of the fire.

Gene Johnson, whose lost his family's townhouse, described the fire as spreading rapidly through the soffits.

"With us, it came from the back wall, up the back. It never entered the house until it hit the soffit and into the attic," he said.

City leaders said the new rules would not prevent a fire, but could keep one from spreading like the Pine Knoll Townes fire. The consultant's report described how the blaze bypassed firewalls between units by passing through the attics.

The Fire Department also recommended raising public awareness about placing combustible landscaping products, including pine straw, away from houses. Investigators determined "carelessly discarded smoking material," possibly a cigarette, caused the fire.

The recommendations will add $300 to $400 to the cost of construction per unit, said Tom Minton, executive vice president of the Home Builders Association of Raleigh-Wake County.

“The city did a very good job in researching this and looking at what the cause was and not over-reacting,” Minton said. “They have a job to protect the public, and I think they’ve done an outstanding job in making that happen.”

For the Johnson family, it's a small price to pay for all that was lost.

"Any recommendations that can improve either the structure, improve the materials that help this from happening again, that would be fantastic," Johnson said. “We’re just trying to unpack and put everything together again."