NFPA Journal looks at trend of huge residential construction fires

Blog Post created by jesseroman Employee on Jan 14, 2015

IAF blog photo
Fire tore through a $35 million residential building under construction in the Indianapolis suburb of Fishers on early Tuesday morning, January 13. The fire at the unfinished complex, which includes 306 apartments, spread quickly because of the open construction, according to fire crews at the scene who fought freezing temperatures to extinguish the blaze.

This latest fire continues last year’s trend of large and destructive fires at residential complexes under construction, which included huge fires in San Francisco, Los Angeles (in the photo above) and Houston—collectively accounting for about $100 million in property losses.

The new January/February issue of NFPA Journal, out this week, looks at the high rate of these massive residential construction fires in 2014 and what is currently being done to address the problem. 

The article, “Construction Ablaze” in the “In a Flash” department of Journal, explores why buildings under construction are such a high fire risk and highlights an effort by the American Wood Council to create three detailed technical manuals focused on standards and prevention—one each for construction supervisors, construction workers, and the fire service. The materials, expected for release in February, are based on existing codes and standards, including 10 NFPA standards, most prominently NFPA 241, Safeguarding Construction, Alteration, and Demolition Operations, and NFPA 1620, Incident Planning.

According to an NFPA report released last July, “Fires in Residential Properties Under Construction or Undergoing Major Renovation Other Than One- Or Two-Family Homes,” from 2007 through 2011 there was an annual average of 830 fires in residential buildings under construction, excluding one- and two-family homes, causing an average of $56 million in direct property damage per year. While there has been no official accounting of all 2014 fires that fit this category, the initial evidence suggests that property loss averages skyrocketed, with the aforementioned fires in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Houston alone nearly doubling the yearly average.

According to the NFPA report, the leading equipment causes of construction fires at big residential complexes are cooking equipment (40 percent), followed by heating equipment (29 percent). Other causes include torch, burner, or soldering iron (6 percent); electrical and lighting equipment (6 percent); and shop tools and industrial equipment (5 percent).

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