N.C. Building Code Officials: No Changes Pending

November 12, 2007

North Carolina State building code officials won’t consider expanding changes to building codes for townhouse soffits unless a report shows it may have been a factor in the beach-house fire that killed seven college students.

The North Carolina Building Code Council is reviewing a proposal to modify soffit materials for townhouses, but one state code council member said it’s too early to determine whether they will consider similar proposals for standalone homes.

David Smith, chairman of the residential standing committee for the code council, said the modifications to townhouse soffits was in response to a Feb. 22 blaze in north Raleigh.

“It’s too early for us to say,” Smith said of whether a similar proposal will be considered for construction of new homes. “We’re still waiting on an official report from that fire.”

Smith said the council’s residential committee will undoubtedly review the reports.

“We look at every issue like this,” he told The Sun-News of Myrtle Beach, S.C. “It’s not something we’re not going to look at.”

Soffit is the underside of a part of a building, such as an arch or overhang or beam.

No one was killed in the Raleigh fire that destroyed 38 townhouses. Authorities said it was caused by an improperly discarded cigarette that ignited pine needles and raced through the townhomes through the soffit and into the attic.

An International Code Council official said he had received word that the Ocean Isle Beach fire also began outside and raced through the soffit and into the attic.

The State Bureau of Investigation released a preliminary report Nov. 2 that said the fire is believed to have started on the back porch of the two-story home at Ocean Isle Beach. Investigators have not determined the cause of the blaze, though they could not rule out improperly discarded smoking material.

SBI officials could not be reach for comment.

The reason for the suggested change listed on the draft proposal is that current methods of townhouse construction have shown a potential to allow fire to spread along and through the soffit areas and into attic spaces.

“In the specific instance of vinyl soffits, the soffit material can melt away and allow an open chase for flames to rapidly spread into the attic space,” the draft said.

The changes in codes, commissioned by Raleigh city officials, were drafted by Charlotte-based Schirmer Engineering, a 68-year-old independent fire protection engineering firm. Lisa Bossert, manager of the Charlotte office for Schirmer Engineering, said the firm has not been contacted by anyone in relation to the Ocean Isle Beach fire.

Though the beach house was not a townhome, the houses along Scotland Street, where the fire occurred, are so close together that fire officials have said if the wind had shifted to blow from the south, it could have ignited other houses.

Information from: The Sun News, http://www.myrtlebeachonline.com

Topics North Carolina

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