Old Anchorage apartments more susceptible to fire

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — A rash of fires this year in Anchorage has charred older apartment complexes in the city that use outdated fire-code standards.

There have been 20 fire calls at multifamily dwellings where the fire spread beyond the room where it started. That’s almost twice as many fires as last year and more than any other year over the past decade. At least five of the fires this year resulted in major damage.

All of the fires this year involved older buildings that do not have to meet modern fire-code standards, KSKA (http://bit.ly/GBzyTe) reported.

Fire investigator Brian Balega said some things could help prevent fires including sprinkler systems, building-wide fire alarms and attic fire breaks, also known as draft stops. Draft stops are plywood walls that are covered with sheet rock and treated with fire retardant.

In Anchorage, older apartment complexes are grandfathered in.

Fire Marshal James Gray said Anchorage fire codes involve many stakeholders and there are limits to what the public and the building community will tolerate.

“Correction of construction deficiencies, correction of fire sprinkler, lack of fire sprinkler, or lack of fire alarm are fairly onerous requirements to put on building owners,” Gray said. “So they try to give credit for its many existing provisions that you have in the building and they don’t make you put in those retroactive requirements until you hit a certain level.”

Glynwood Manor, an apartment complex that recently burned down in Anchorage’s Mountain View sector, had been inspected last year and passed. Gray, however, said sometimes he is understaffed and his office can’t inspect buildings every three years as it is supposed to do.

Jonathan Steele, an architect with the firm Bettisworth North, helps write Anchorage’s fire code, which is based on the International Fire Code. The city’s fire code is updated every three years and approved by the Anchorage Assembly.

Steele says one chapter of the 47 in the city’s fire code is devoted to upgrades to older apartment buildings.

“Once the building has been designed and permitted, as long as its use doesn’t change they don’t have to do anything other than these mandatory upgrades that are in a very small section of the code,” he said.

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