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Many of the fire suppression systems that could have saved the Copperstone condominium building from burning down were not in operation.
Pointe of View, the Calgary-based developer, said they had not installed fire doors and the water sprinkler system was not charged.
New Westminster Fire and Rescue deputy chief Jim Cook said a functioning sprinkler system would have confined the fire to a smaller area while not having fire doors installed put a number of firefighters at risk as they battled to contain the three-alarm fire.
The blaze, which broke out late afternoon Wednesday, destroyed part of Building 2000 in the Copperstone development in Sapperton, south of the Royal Columbian Hospital. Twenty-five condos were destroyed by the fire. Another 10 to 11 units, on the other side of a firewall, suffered smoke and water damage.
It’s unknown if the firewall was damaged beyond repair by the fire. If its structural integrity was compromised, the other condos in Building 2000 may have to be torn down. The developer said they will rebuild the building.
Clark Hogan with Pointe of View Developers said the company had not charged the sprinkler system because they weren’t at that stage of construction. The same goes for the fire doors.
“We weren’t that far along. We were still early in our construction,” said Hogan.
“Activated sprinkler systems in that area of the building would have helped, it would have helped tremendously,” said Cook. “From our perspective, as the building progresses, the fire suppression systems should progress along with it. And that means where we have certain sections of the building that are unfinished, where the piping is in for sprinklers, they should be active and then capped off where the unfinished construction goes.”
The B.C. Building Code is vague in its regulations regarding sprinkler protection, stating “the installation shall be placed in service as soon as practical.” It goes on to say that completed sprinkler systems should be turned back on at the end of each work shift.
Fire doors are also to be installed as soon as practical.
“The fire walls that were up, we stopped the fire there but we had to improvise because the doors for the fire wall separation were not yet installed,” said Cook, who recommended the doors be installed before construction moves on to another building section.
In order to stop the fire from moving past the fire wall, firefighters went into the building and set up with their hoses at the fire doors.
“The firefighters acted as the fire doors,” said Cook. “We were very concerned about putting firefighters in [the building]. They were the only ones in there and we were monitoring them very closely.”
Construction crews had been working on the building throughout Wednesday and its speculated that a heater or torch may have set off the fire.
Construction workers smelled smoke and traced it to the building, where they came across the fire. “At that point there was nothing they could do,” said Cook. “They evacuated the building. That was a good thing for us because we knew when we arrived we had nobody in the building.”
When fire crews arrived the blaze was in the fourth floor on the north side. It was visible in the soffits and quickly spread into the roof. That day workers moved tons of sheetrock into the units in preparation for drywalling. The weight of the sheetrock caused the floors to fail very quickly.
“The weight added to the speed of the floors failing,” said Cook, “and it quickly fell in amongst itself.”
Because of the mass destruction, fire investigators are attempting to determine the cause of the fire through interviews with construction workers.
“We’ll be looking at who was in what section of the building, what kind of work were they doing and were they using any torches,” said Cook. “Failing that, if that’s not the cause we’ll look at the electrical system and check out all of the mechanical systems in the area.”
Copperstone includes 231 units in three buildings. It first went on the market in 2005 and there have been numerous construction delays since then. Pointe of View’s Hogan said they were held up during the permit process. The City of New Westminster recently began inspecting the nearly completed buildings after the developer applied for occupancy permits. It was hoped that residents could move in by November.
Hogan wasn’t sure if that deadline could be met.
More than 30 firefighters from New Westminster battled the fire. As well, crews from Burnaby were also brought in. The fire took more than four hours to control and crews were also on-scene Thursday morning to put out hot spots.