Replying to Recent Letter On Fire Risks of Large-Scale Wood Housing
To the Editor:
This is in reply to Nat Bottigheimer’s letter in the September 27 Mailbox on fire risks of large-scale wood housing.
As a society, we are constructing, once again, huge housing complexes and hotels built of wood. Look around at the new megablock luxury condo/apartment complexes. Almost all are wood framed and built with more combustible lightweight and engineered wood than the heavier wood used pre-World War II.
The result: conflagrations in heavily populated areas that destroy as many as hundreds of wood condo or apartment homes in a single fire. And sprinklers are not preventing the conflagrations, which would not occur if we built large-scale housing out of non-combustible construction as we used to do.
In large-scale wood housing, a single mistake can have catastrophic consequences. Two hundred forty apartment homes were destroyed in a single fire in Edgewater in 2015, and 500 people were permanently displaced. Another conflagration destroyed nearly 100 senior homes in a newly-built upscale retirement community in Georgia and killed one senior. There are frequent massive fires that destroy smaller wood complexes of dozens of condos or apartments.
There are also many fires in under-construction megablock wood complexes. Huge construction fires this year in large-scale wood housing this year in Oakland (multiple conflagrations), Boston (multiple conflagrations), Kansas City, and Raleigh spread to surrounding occupied buildings. The construction fire in Kansas City spread burning embers a square mile and burned two dozen surrounding occupied homes.
For an up-to-date list go to Facebook’s Massive Fires Damage Lives and scroll down.
So far there have not been many deaths in these fires. But death statistics are only one measure of damage. Surviving a major fire and losing one’s home is a traumatic event. Large long-term studies at major medical centers nationwide show that emotional trauma for fire survivors has similar life consequences as physical trauma, including divorce, job loss, anxiety, and depression. Search “Plos One — The Long-Term Impact of Physical and Emotional Trauma: The Station Nightclub Fire”
Megablock wood structure fires are conflagrations in which an entire block or more is burning. Multiple fire companies fight the fires which last many hours, and toxic smoke is released. In Raleigh police warned residents to stay away from the downtown for several days due to unhealthy air. The cost to municipalities in fighting these fires is high, neighborhood communities are destroyed, and the local economy suffers.
Citizens and experts are addressing this issue on the local, state, and national level. National code and fire experts, as well as informed citizens, are working for code reform. Note that paid lobbyists from the building industries wield influence on national building and fire code committees.
There are seven bills before the New Jersey state legislature. Citizens who have been working on this issue since the Edgewater conflagration support New Jersey bills Senate 1632/Assembly 3770 sponsored by Senators Turner and Bateman and Assembly members Muoio, Gusciora, Zwicker, and Chaparro.
It is time to take action at the state and local level for better fire protection in large wood structures.