On May 12, 1999, an accidental fire occurred at a fraternity house in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Five occupants were killed and three others were injured. Local and state fire investigators determined that smoking materials most likely ignited combustible materials underneath an alcohol bar in the basement. The fire then spread to the combustible interior finishes. Based on its investigation of this fire, the NFPA determined that the following factors contributed to the loss of life in this fire.
- The presence of combustible interior finish materials.
- The presence of an open stairway.
- The lack of fire-rated construction separating the assembly areas from the residential areas of the building.
- The lack of automatic fire detection and fire alarm systems throughout the building.
- The lack of automatic sprinkler protection.
- The improper use or disposal of smoking materials.
In the wake of the tragedy, the Chapel Hill town council voted unanimously to work toward a plan that would require sprinklers in fraternity and sorority houses, and on June 19, 1996, the state legislature granted the town authorization to enact a retroactive sprinkler law. NFPA members can read the full investigation report, and all site visitors can download a summary in English or Spanish.