s k i A number of recent large fires at wood buildings under construction have resulted in substantial fire department responses and significant dam-
age to not only the building being built but exposures
as well. These fires have occurred in the following:
• Oakland, California (2017).
• Boston, Massachusetts (2017).
• College Park, Maryland (2017).
• Maplewood, New Jersey (2017).
• Raleigh, North Carolina (2017).
• Overland Park, Kansas (2017).
• San Francisco, California (2014).
• Los Angeles, California (2014).
A fire that started in a building under construction
but damaged or destroyed several large, occupied
exposure buildings that were also wood construction
occurred in Conshohocken, a Philadelphia suburb, in
2008. There certainly have been others, as well, but
these are a good list of notable recent occurrences.
In the past two years, I have traveled to 20 states,
maybe more, from North Dakota to Maine, Florida,
New Mexico, California, and Oregon. Almost
The Building Stage
everywhere that I have traveled, I have seen four-
story wood buildings being built: hotels, apartment
buildings, condos, and even “taxpayers” with a floor
or two of commercial construction on the bottom (a
“pedestal”) with four floors of wood above. It reminds
me of the boom of construction of garden apartments
when I was rather young; they were going up all over,
and the fire service saw the results starting a decade or
so later—and still going today. One does not need a
costly study to see that we will continue to see wood
construction persist into the foreseeable future, pre-
senting considerable challenges for firefighting efforts
during the construction phase of these buildings.
According to the United States Census Bureau,
construction spending has gone up about 40 percent
since 2011 ( www.census.gov/construction/c30/histor-
ical_data.html). Although a number of the communi-
ties where these fires have already occurred were “big
cities,” Maplewood is a suburban township of about
23,000 people, and Conshohocken is a suburban
town of about 8,000 people. Construction is hap-
pening across the board, in communities of all sizes.
In all of the examples listed above, the fire depart-
ment arrived on scene with what truly was “heavy
Firefighting in wood buildings under construction
A number of recent large fires at wood
buildings under construction have resulted
in substantial fire department responses and
significant damage. (Photo by Bill Tompkins.)
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