Experts pushing for changes to state code after deadly SouthPark construction fire

Construction sites, which are often primarily wooden, are highly flammable.
WBTV looked into state regulations and what is being done to keep people safe following a massive fire in Charlotte
Published: May. 31, 2023 at 11:46 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Construction sites are popping up across the Charlotte area, and if you look closely you will notice something similar about most of them.

New apartment complexes in our region are primarily wooden structures, much like the construction site in SouthPark that caught fire two weeks ago, killing two workers.

According to fire experts, construction sites are already prone to fires but the risk increases with wood frame structures.

Following the massive blaze in SouthPark, people in the fire industry are pushing for changes at the state level.

WBTV learned that changes to North Carolina fire codes take time and are usually updated several years apart.

The Chief State Fire Marshal for North Carolina said Charlotte’s deadly fire will likely lead to more changes.

“What we know is that all buildings under construction have a higher risk of fire,” Jonathan Hart, the technical lead and principal engineer for the National Fire Protection Association, said.

Wooden structures add to the risk because they’re more flammable. Experts also said construction sites usually lack fire protection and there is a lot of flammable work happening inside.

“There’s always things taking place during construction, if it’s welding, it could be heating during the winter, then of course you have the natural conditions of wind and storms,” Brian Taylor, the Chief State Fire Marshal for North Carolina, said. “We’re very concerned in trying to learn all we can, not only locally, but nationwide at what we can do to improve, prevent and educate on these fires in the future.”

Taylor said the Fire Code Revision Committee will look at adopting a fire code from the National Fire Protection Association known as 241.

“What we have is a standard, NFPA 241 which provides criteria and requirements for how we can protect the site, the workers and first responders who are going to respond to a scene if there is an incident,” Hart said.

The National Fire Protection Association believes codes adopted by the agency can help with fire safety.

The safeguard list recommendations for tall wood construction sites. Some safeguards include having a fire prevention program manager who understands the construction site, the risks, hazards, and has a plan to deal with a fire if one happens.

National Fire Protection Association codes are updated every three years.

“We are currently, today we’re on the 2015 ICC code, so we are behind and it’s because the codes are adopted over the years,” Taylor said. “We hope to make [some changes] next month. The commissioner, I know our staff and I know they will ask for that.”

The Fire Code Revision Committee will meet on June 6 and any additions will go before the Building Code Council a week later.

If the new code is adopted, it would be added as a revision of the 2025 fire code for the state.

Related: Charlotte Fire identifies two killed in massive SouthPark construction fire