BALTIMORE (WJZ) — The cause of this week’s five-alarm fire in College Park is believed to be accidental, according to investigators.
Alex DeMetrick reports, it’s also the kind of structural fire that might be prevented.
The building on Berwyn House Road, right off Route 1, was still under construction when disaster struck Monday.
The largest fire in Prince George’s County history burned quickly through the upper floors of the apartment building, Fuse 47.
“Once it got up into the attic space, lightweight construction materials burn very rapidly,” says Assistant Prince George’s County Fire Chief Alan Doubleday. “The truss system up there is a series of 2 by 4s.”
So, is there a different way to build that won’t burn? Yes, says David Azar, who says he’s building “a non-combustible building” with a “solid poured concrete wall system” in Stevensville on Kent Island.
It will eventually be a four story apartment building where concrete is poured between frames made up of foam panels, which would melt in the event of a fire.
But, “once you get through the foam you hit eight inches of solid concrete,” he says. “What’s going to burn?”
It’s a construction technique that’s been around for 80 years, but is not as common in the U.S. as wood frame building.
Not surprisingly, the concrete industry has been trying to get legislation to make it more common in Maryland.
The College Park fire raises the point again.
“There have been efforts int he Maryland State Legislature that would have prevented this from happening, unfortunately those efforts have not gotten very far,” says Joshua Baca, of the Build With Strength Coalition.
Besides resistance to fire, this kind of construction also has other perks.
It muffles sound, and “the energy efficiencies are off the chart,” according to Azar.
Whether this type of construction takes off is still a work in progress.
Meanwhile, the Prince George’s County Fire Department has estimated the dollar loss from the Fuse 47 fire at just under $40 million.