Monday, November 24, 2014

Apartment fires a smoldering threat in Clark County


Blazes at multifamily complexes have caused two deaths and nearly $4.4 million in damage through October of this year

By Emily Gillespie, Columbian breaking news reporter

Apartment fires are on the rise in Clark County, causing more deaths and twice the amount of property damage this year than usual.
Fifty seven fires were reported in occupied apartment buildings in Clark County through October of this year, according to The Columbian’s analysis of data from local fire agencies. That’s already more apartment fires than the average rate of about 50 a year.
Of the four fatal fires in the county this year, two of those deaths occurred in an apartment complex. Those were the first apartment fire deaths in the county since 2011.
By the end of October of this year, the damage to apartment buildings and residents’ property totaled nearly $4.4 million, according to the data. That’s more than double the average value of property destroyed yearly by apartment fires from 2009 to 2013, which was about $2 million a year.
As the number of renters in the county increases and new apartment complexes are built to higher safety standards, officials remain focused on fire prevention for renters. Local fire marshals and landlords say they are intensifying their efforts to curb risky tenant behaviors that can cause these kinds of fires.
“The trends that we’re seeing are accidental fires caused by human behavior,” Vancouver Fire Marshal Heidi Scarpelli said. “Families in apartment buildings live close together and affect each other’s risk when it comes to fire.”

Hazel Dell blaze

Dozens of Clark County residents lost their homes and belongings in apartment blazes in 2014.
The largest fire of the year was at the Bridge Creek Apartment Homes on March 16. The early-morning blaze tore through 18 units at the Hazel Dell complex, 9211 N.E. 15th St., sending firefighters into an all-hands-on-deck response.
Tiffany Alziebler was one of the roughly 70 people who lost her home that night.
Her boyfriend woke her up to the ruckus, and Alziebler threw on some clothes, grabbed her cat, Dude, her purse and a coat, and ran outside.
Within minutes, Alziebler said, “it was pretty clear that I lost just about everything I owned.”
Deputy Clark County Fire Marshal Curtis Eavenson said smoldering smoking materials started the fire. No one was cited.
“We couldn’t pin down who was doing the smoking,” Eavenson said. “It was smoldering for some time before it came to life.”
Alziebler said that she is a smoker, but she’s meticulous about extinguishing her cigarettes in water.
“It sucks that somebody else’s mistake caused so many people to lose their homes and the stuff that they’ve been working hard for,” Alziebler said.
Along with cooking and candles, smoking is a leading cause of residential fires. Some smokers extinguish their cigarettes in potted plants, which Scarpelli said contain chemicals that let the embers smolder. Similarly, inattention plays a role in fires caused by candles and cooking.
“Cooking is an active process. You need to be at the stove,” Scarpelli said. A distraction such as a phone call can take your attention away and “pretty soon you have a full kitchen fire that puts the whole apartment complex at risk.”
The five most expensive apartment fires this year, each resulting in more than $100,000 in damage, were all unintentional. The sources for those fires included an electrical malfunction, hot embers or ash, and smoking materials. Of the two fatal apartment fires this year, both accidental, one was caused by smoking materials and the other was either caused by cigarettes or an electrical problem.

Renting on the rise

At a slow but steady pace, more Clark County residents are choosing to live in rentals, according to an analysis of more than 10 years worth of U.S. Census data. In 2000, 32.7 percent of Clark County residents rented, while 67.3 percent owned homes. By 2013, 35.7 percent rented and 64.3 percent owned homes.
From 2008 to 2012, an estimated 22.6 percent of Clark County households lived in multi-unit buildings, according to the Census. In Vancouver alone, an estimated 38.9 percent of households were in multi-unit buildings during the same time period.
And more apartments are on the horizon. In 2013, 92 new building permits were filed in the county for residential complexes with five or more units, according to Census data. That’s more permits than the previous five years combined.
Meanwhile, a majority of renters aren’t prepared to handle the fallout from a fire.
Just 31 percent of tenants purchase renter’s insurance, according to national Census numbers.
Alziebler, 28, had renter’s insurance, which helped her replace her belongings once she moved to another apartment complex.
“I always have it just because if anything happened, I didn’t have any savings,” she said. “My mom told me to always have insurance because you never know what’s going to happen.”

Building codes

Although older apartment complexes are often more affordable, they were built in compliance with fewer safety standards. Fire codes do not apply retroactively; if a safety code is put in place after an apartment complex is built, the property owner is not necessarily required to upgrade the building to meet those new standards.
Since the beginning of 2009, at least 161 fires have sparked in Clark County apartment buildings constructed before 1991, according to the data from local fire departments. Starting in 1991, builders were required to put smoke detectors in each bedroom, and install automatic sprinklers and automatic fire alarms in buildings that are either taller than three stories or have at least 16 units.
Those 161 fires caused more than $11.1 million in damage to apartment buildings and their contents, the data show.
During the same time period, however, 140 apartment fires in Clark County apartment buildings constructed after 1990 caused only about $3.2 million in damage.
By 2003, automatic fire sprinklers were required in newly constructed apartment buildings of any size. And even more safety features have been added over the years.
Complexes built today are required to have sprinklers in the stairwells, in the attic and on porches. Fire-resistant rock wool is used between floors, and fire putty is required around outlet boxes.
Fire officials said sprinklers would have greatly diminished the damage to this year’s fire at Bridge Creek Apartment Homes in Hazel Dell, which started in a third-floor hallway. Built in 1989, the structure’s lack of sprinklers “allowed the fire to grow to an extent that it got into the attic and then grew,” Clark County Fire Marshal Jon Dunaway said.
But while fire officials can advocate for more safety codes to help mitigate the flames, that ultimately won’t stop the root problem.
“More often than not, the fire is caused by the people rather than the building and the building system,” Dunaway said.

Changing behaviors

After fire investigators determine the cause of these apartment fires, they take the time to educate residents about fire safety — simple steps they can take to prevent the loss of property, a home or a loved one.
Local fire marshals offices regularly meet with landlords and send out a monthly newsletter to property managers of apartment complexes in an effort to keep those safety messages at the forefront.
The Vancouver Fire Marshal’s Office also is preparing to launch Project Home Safe, where volunteers will go door-to-door to spread safety messages. The project targets a densely populated area around Fourth Plain Boulevard that is home to several apartment complexes and has the highest fire-per-square-mile rate in Vancouver, based on eight years of data.
Lyn Ayers, president of the Clark County Rental Association, said he’s excited to see Project Home Safe get up and running but he’s skeptical that it will work.
“They’re trying to change behavior to more responsibility and that’s a tough challenge,” said Ayers, who has managed rental homes since the early 1980s.
Many landlords in the rental association have adopted no-smoking policies and some have even banned candles from rental units. But while adding fire safety components to a rental agreement may be well-meaning, Ayers said, it rarely results in change.
“The problem is your tenants typically read through the agreement, sign it, and then they put it away and forget about it,” he said. “It doesn’t really mean any behavior change. ... It’s too easy to do it the way you’ve always done it.”
Web editor John Hill contributed to the data research and analysis.

Friday, November 21, 2014

2 children die in fire while pregnant mom is hospitalized

from latimes

November 20, 2014

Two children were killed in early apartment fire in San Bernardino
Firefighter found the children hiding behind a couch

TWo children whose pregnant mother was in the hospital were killed early Thursday when fire swept through their San Bernardino apartment.
Their father was critically injured in the fire.
Firefighters tried to revive the girl and boy, ages 2 and 6, but they were pronounced dead at a hospital, said Engineer Rodd Mascis of the San Bernardino City Fire Department. The children's father was hospitalized with critical injuries including burns and breathing difficulty.
Firefighters arriving at the apartment in the 200 block of West 14th Street about 3:05 a.m. heard the father screaming for help inside, Mascis said.
As they entered the smoky apartment, firefighters found the man lying in the ground. He was confused and unable to provide firefighters with details, he said.
Firefighters searched the home and found the children, who were unresponsive, hiding behind a couch.
They were likely scared, he said, and tried to find a safe place to hide.
"They were both together," he said. "It is very common for children to hide from a fire."
At an afternoon news conference, police said the family was living inside the home illegally. The apartment had been boarded up, but the family returned, police said.
"The people that were in the property were there basically illegally," San Bernardino Police Lt. Richard Lawhead told ABC-7.
"The electricity, water, gas had been turned off, but they had activated that again through illegal means," he said.
Lawhead told The Times that there were no working smoke detectors in the house and that there were numerous hazards, such as blocked doorways.
He said the house was in the foreclosure process.
Mascis said investigators believe the fire started in the kitchen area, but are still investigating the cause.
Family friend Arlene Gonzales told KTLA that the children's pregnant mother was hospitalized Wednesday night and was possibly going into labor with her third child.
She said the children were fun and loving.
"They would break your heart," Gonzales said.
For breaking news throughout California, follow @VeronicaRochaLA. She can be reached at

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Fire sprinklers proposed for all new homes


Fire marshal says they would prevent deaths and injuries

By Damian Mann
Mail Tribune 

Posted Nov. 13, 2014 @ 4:01 pm
Updated Nov 13, 2014 at 5:32 PM 

Medford might become the first city in Oregon to require fire sprinklers in all new residential construction to prevent unnecessary deaths and injuries.
"We can't put a price on a child," Mayor Gary Wheeler said.
Wheeler and the City Council received a recommendation from Fire Marshal Greg Kleinberg, who said a fire sprinkler system could add $1.68 a square foot to new construction, or $3,360 to a 2,000-square-foot house.
Kleinberg said competition typically drives down the price of sprinklers after several years in communities. The national average price for sprinkler installations is $1.35 per square foot, he said.
Over the lifetime of a 30-year loan, Kleinberg said the cost of sprinklers would amount to one Happy Meal or a couple of drinks at Starbucks each month.
Based on research and anecdotal evidence, smoke detectors are not always effective because they don't always awaken small children or residents disable the units.
In newer construction, flammable materials can completely overwhelm a house with fire and smoke within minutes. Sometimes new floor joists, which are made of lighter materials, will burn through quicker than those in older homes, Kleinberg said.
"We've had firefighters enter the front door and fall through the floor," he said.
Also, most houses include highly flammable furniture such as sofas, beds and TV sets.
"We're packing our houses full of fuel," Kleinberg said.
In side-by-side demonstrations, the fire department concluded that a newer house could get out of control within about three minutes compared to older houses that might take as long as 17 minutes.
Over the past 25 years, Medford has had 22 fire-related deaths. Kleinberg said that based on his analysis, 17 of those deaths would have been preventable with fire sprinklers. Over the past five years, the city of Medford has averaged 82 fires a year, with the majority one and two family residential.
Kleinberg said it's important to note that there are no cities in Oregon that require fire sprinklers in new residential, but it they are required in California.
Councilors thought the city should look at ways to offset some of the costs of installing the fire sprinkler systems. Councilor Dick Gordon said he wondered whether the issue should be put to voters to decide.
The councilors urged Kleinberg to reach out to local builders and real estate agencies to gauge their response to a mandatory fire sprinkler ordinance.
"To make every single homeowner have a fire sprinkler, whether he wants it or not, we don't think it's a good idea," said Brad Bennington, executive officer for the Jackson County Homebuilders Association.
He said he thinks that most fires are not taking place in newer construction. "Our experience is the older homes have the problems," he said. "Many homes today are extremely safe. The construction in a modern home is night-and-day compared to an older home."
Bennington said his not-for-profit organization's goal is to provide safe, comfortable and affordable housing.
In some cases, he said a fire sprinkler system might be appropriate for properties that are located far from fire hydrants or don't have easy access off long driveways.
"We think technology is a great idea for people who want it and can afford it," he said.
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or Follow on Twitter at @reporterdm.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

After deadly Maine fire, questions about victims, cause

from fox

Nov. 1, 2014: Friends of a victim of a fatal apartment building fire console each other in Portland, Maine. (AP)
After an intense blaze tore through an apartment house near the University of Maine, killing five people and critically injuring another, investigators were back at the scene Sunday hunting for clues to the cause of the state's deadliest fire in three decades.
In a heavy, wet snow, police and fire investigators moved in and out of what remained of the three-story building. The road was still blocked off and a memorial had sprung up that included flowers and a pumpkin.
Even as the cause of the fire and identity of the victims remained a mystery, police and fire officials had sorted out one element of confusion by the end of Saturday, a day that sent ripples of anxiety and sorrow through the campus and the city of Portland: Everybody who had been in the house was accounted for.
State fire marshal's spokesman Steve McCausland said most, if not all, the residents of the 94-year-old house were USM students, but said there was no indication that students were killed in the fire.
Portland Fire Chief Jerry LaMoria said the investigation was in a preliminary stage and could take several days before officials know how the fire started. Investigators will be looking to see if there were any code violations at the house.
Two bodies were found on the second floor and three on the third floor.
Carol Schiller, president of the University Neighborhood Association who lives near the home where the fire occurred, said she woke up Saturday morning to loud popping sounds and looked outside her window to see a man engulfed in flames.
"He was making some sounds, probably screaming," Schiller said. "I saw him rolling on the ground and then it clicked, `Oh my god, he's on fire."'
Schiller said she wrote a letter to the city in May expressing concern about the condition of the home. She said there were often many garbage bags left on the porch and she feared there were too many people living in the house.
Anxious students spent the day trying to get information about what happened.
"Everyone is just trying to find out if their friends are hurt," said Sam Hill, the editor of the university's paper.
A few students visited the student union where Red Cross workers offered counseling and comfort. As they came and went, students hugged each other; some cried.
"It's definitely kind of a shock that something like this could happen so close to home," said Joshua Dodge, a student Senate member. "If students were involved, these are people we see every day."
One person suffered severe burns and jumped from a second-story window. He was reported in critical condition in the burn unit of a Boston hospital, McCausland said. A second person was treated and released from a hospital; seven people escaped from the burning building.
University President David Flanagan said at least one of the people who escaped was a student.
Damien Croxford of South Portland was driving through the area on his way to work when he saw the house in flames and the entire neighborhood cloaked in smoke. He said he found a badly burned person lying in the street breathing and conscious after he called 911.
Croxford said the heat from the fire was so intense that he had to back away from the scene.
"It's going to stay with me for a long time," he said.
The fire, Maine's deadliest since a 1984 blaze killed five in Hartland, ripped a hole through the roof of the house and both apartment units were badly burned.
Nathan Long, who said he woke up to the smell of smoke when his alarm clock went off, told the Portland Press Herald that he didn't hear any fire alarms going off. He yelled "fire!" and ran to the back of the house, where another person was opening a window. They both jumped onto a porch roof, then to the ground, where he saw the badly burned body of another person.
"I feel pretty lucky. I'm kind of numb," Long told the newspaper. He said he lived with four other people and that he didn't know the fate of his roommates beyond the one with whom he escaped.
Investigators have interviewed all the people who escaped and are still working to identify the victims.
The neighborhood is a dense, residential area of single and multi-family homes where full-time residents and students live.
The Press Herald reported the house is owned by Gregory Nisbet. A phone number listed in his name was out of service Saturday and nobody answered the door at his home.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

5 Dead, 1 Critically Injured in Maine House Fire

from abc

PORTLAND, Maine — Nov 1, 2014, 8:49 PM ET