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Avalon at Edgewater, Edgewater, New Jersey
January 21, 2015
Project Description:  A 408 unit 300,000 square foot apartment complex, with four stories of wood framing above a two-story concrete parking deck.
Building Status:  Building completed in 2002 and fully occupied.

Summary of the Fire Event:  The fire began when maintenance workers ignited the combustible framing members inside the wall of a bathroom while attempting to make plumbing repairs.  Unlike many of the recent fires that have destroyed other multi-story wood framed buildings, the Edgewater apartments had been built with fully-functioning sprinkler systems. It was the second fire at the site. The first structure, also wood framed, was under construction when it burned down in 2000.

Maintenance workers doing plumbing repairs with a blow torch in the wall of an apartment reportedly started the fire. They called their supervisor when the fire started before calling 911, and the fire quickly raged out of control.

In the immediate aftermath, people were focused on what happened and why, and whether the fire could have been prevented. Edgewater Fire Chief Tom Jacobson said that the lightweight, wooden construction of the Avalon Bay complex allowed the flames to spread so rapidly.

According to building owner AvalonBay, the fire alarm and sprinkler systems worked as designed and the condo complex construction met all building codes. Still, the fire at the Avalon at Edgewater escalated into an inferno that destroyed 240 of the complex's 408 units.

An inspection of the site, including the grounds, offices, and adjacent structures, resulted in an estimate of damages in the range of $55 million to $65 million.

AvalonBay, the biggest publicly traded U.S. apartment landlord after Equity Residential, owns or has a stake in communities in 11 states and the District of Columbia, with a total of 82,333 units.

Prior Fire:  On August 31, 2000, a four-story wood framed apartment complex under construction was also destroyed by fire.  The Avalon River Mews complex was to contain more than 400 apartments. Within moments, witnesses said, the building - made mostly of wood - began to collapse, sending embers westward up the Palisades, where they landed on houses and cars.  AvalonBay paid $6 million in settlements to the homeowners, the Associated Press reported in 2005.

Fall Out from the Avalon at Edgewater Fire

Legislation:  Existing building codes are getting a second look as a result of the fire and extensive damage. Assembly bill A4195 has been introduced and would halt the use of light frame wood construction for all multi-family developments in the state until the state’s building code can be revised. The state Department of Community Affairs (DCA) is conducting a review of current building codes as part of this process.  Assemblyman Scott T. Rumana, sponsor of the bill notes that “the light frame construction is a lot of composite wood products, wood that is less bulky, and truss roof structures that allow for fires to roll through the tops of these facilities so that the whole thing goes up in flames.”

Law Suits: Within a month of the Avalon at Edgewater fire, three lawsuits had been filed against the project owner, AvalonBay.  The first two suits filed by residents seek compensation and reimbursement for emotional distress and economic loss.  Plaintiffs in the third suit lived in a building adjacent to the Avalon complex and allege damage to their property as a result of the high temperatures of the fire.  All legal complaints cite the use of lightweight wood construction as the reason why the fire spread from the ignition site to the rest of the building.

"As of today, the actual wood construction that they (AvalonBay) used appears to be compliant with codes. I'm hopeful that our lawsuit and the terrible loss that the victims suffered may get the legislature to change the codes to require more cinder block, more cement and more durable fire resistant materials so that something like this won't happen again," Micheal Epstein, the Epstein Law Firm.

Fire Fighters:  “We in the fire service spend lots of time talking about how dangerous LWWC is to us and we are right. But this unbelievable fire in Edgewater showed us just how dangerous this type of construction is to our citizenry and our communities. Once these building get going there is little a fire department can do to stop it. Additionally, if the fire gets large enough other buildings in the neighborhood are also in danger.”   www.Firehouse.com, Posted February 4, 2015    JOHN J. SALKA Jr., a Firehouse® contributing editor, recently retired as a battalion chief with FDNY, serving as commander of the 18th battalion in the Bronx.

http://www.northjersey.com/news/massive-fire-at-edgewater-s-avalon-apartments-hundreds-              evacuated-1.1231207

Video:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vDaxolfHlV0