Contain it with Concrete
A condo development site in Langley, BC, is being considered a complete loss as the result of a fast-spreading fire from an undetermined cause. Hundreds of homes lost, a school closed and embers started fires up to an entire city block away.
For the second time in less than two weeks, there was the loss of yet another partially constructed multi-residential new build site with an undetermined cause. A four-building pre-sale condo development site in Langley, British Columbia has been “all but levelled”. CTV reports that “By Tuesday, all that was left standing were two elevator shafts and the remnants of one of the buildings on the south side of the development.”. Because this area of Langley is densely populated the ripple effects of the fire were devastating, including spread to other buildings up to an entire city block away. Additionally, the school across the street has been closed due to damages. The development was sold out and would have provided hundreds of homes. There is no report as to what owners can expect next.
The size and scale of urban wildfires is increasing, and population density continues to make cities vulnerable to spreading flames. In the picture above you can clearly see the windswept embers that are spreading dangerously towards other parts of the city. Not only are concrete egress routes essential to saving lives, but concrete firewalls are needed to contain the flames to the point of origin. Building structures from combustible materials, or non-combustible materials with inadequate burn times, results in extreme vulnerability for both the structure itself and the neighboring area.
This is not a new problem. A report by the National Fire Prevention Program shows a disturbing trend of construction site fires spanning a decade. The above chart shows the number of fires per year, and for the duration of this study the fires took an annual average of 4 civilian lives, caused 49 civilian injuries and cost $104 million in direct property damages alone. Clearly this dangerous trend has continued, and over the past year occurrences of devastating fires at new build construction sites has seen a significant spike. The commonalities in these fires are that the flames and embers spread quickly, the cause is “undetermined”, and only concrete structures remain standing when the rest of the development is irreparably decimated. On a case-by-case basis, these singular events are certainly a cause for concern, but looking across Canada at the disturbing trend that is quickly accelerating – it demands closer investigation. The financial impacts of both the individual and cumulative loss, as well as the risk to human life and further damage to surrounding areas, this problem demands that we start asking the hard questions. While the cause of each fire may be impossible to determine, what we can gain an understanding of is how to better isolate fire should it occur. In order to save lives and mitigate the risk of destruction on new build sites, giving primacy to firewall building and demanding the capacity for flame containment need to move to the forefront of building conversation.