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Fire Destroys Boston Apartments Under Construction

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

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An eight-alarm fire in Boston claimed a five-building luxury apartment complex that was under construction early Sunday morning (July 23).

The blaze is the second in a month that has destroyed area structures that are being built using all wood frames, and now, Boston officials are looking at whether to impose restriction on the construction method that is becoming more and more popular.

The Fire

The blaze broke out around 4 a.m. in the Waltham area of the city, and was heightened by winds that carried embers and smoke to neighboring cars and buildings, some of which were evacuated. Firefighters from more than a dozen communities battled the fire until early afternoon, according to reports, and continued to spray water throughout the day. Two firefighters sustained minor injuries, and no others were reported.

Waltham Fire Chief Paul Ciccone said that by the time crews got there, two of the buildings were “totally involved,” and the fire spread quickly to the other three. All five collapsed before 7 a.m., and Ciccone also confirmed to reporters at the scene that there were “multiple explosions during the fire.”

One of the buildings was near completion, meaning gas and electric could have been turned on. Smoke detectors and sprinklers had been installed, but were not yet operational.

It’s during these stages of construction, fire officials said, that are particularly dangerous for the wood-framed buildings.

The Wood

Both the structure in Saturday’s fire and the apartment building that caught fire a month ago were wood-frame structures, a method that has increased recently from a need to save money.

While the structures are reportedly safe once they’re complete (with the addition of fire breaks, sheetrock, smoke detectors and sprinklers), the vulnerability of such structures while they’re being built, especially in the wake of fires such as these, is giving some officials pause.

Robert Logan, vice president of the Waltham City Council and former chair of the council’s ordinance and rules committee, is calling for the state to re-evaluate the use of wood-frame construction.

“It seems to be all the rage these days,” Logan said. “But they seem to burn pretty well.”

The $43 million project named “The Edison” was planned to house 264 luxury apartments and 26 affordable units and was slated to open next year.

A spokesperson for developer Lincoln Cooper Street LLC and general contractor Callahan Construction Managers said in a statement only that the structure had just passed inspection the previous Wednesday and that everything was up to code.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation, but reports say that there was “no reason” to believe it was suspicious. Ciccone said that it could be days before it’s safe for investigators to begin combing through the site.


Tagged categories: Fire; Good Technical Practice; North America; Residential Construction; Wood

Comment from Jesse Melton, (7/25/2017, 8:08 AM)

See kids, this is why history class is important. Wood framed higher density buildings are atrociously inflammable. Most population centers in Europe experienced terrible, widespread, high loss fires in the last 800-1000 years. It was more than just poor forest management that led to the preponderance of stone and brick buildings in Europe.

Everything about going back to wood gives me a headache. I have trouble even believing a licensed architect and structural engineer signed off on this.

Comment from Geoge Seegebrecht, (7/26/2017, 10:15 AM)

Jesse, I agree wholeheartedly. Since I work in the concrete industry I will comment from that point of view. Concrete will have a higher upfront cost but pays back in many ways, Safety in terms of fire resistance, but also reduced energy costs, noise reduction just to name a few characteristics. Yes, cement has a carbon footprint, but once the entire life cycle is analyzed and recycled concrete is used as recycled aggregate for subsequent concrete or even backfill, concrete is a sound safe cost-effective choice.

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