Homes potential for fire disaster?

Villas of Trentdale resident Jan Crase is worried about the danger of a fire spreading rapidly in her Dale City neighborhood.

Some homes in the development south of Hoadly Road are six feet apart and are connected by a treated wooden gate. If fire breaks through one wall facing another, the wood between the two homes could potentially ignite — spreading the blaze to neighboring structures.

Virginia building codes allow contractors to build homes within such close proximity that the possibility of a rapid and dangerous spread of fires is a serious hazard, experts say.

Contractors can erect structures with absolutely no fire resistant materials, and place them dangerously close to each other, Battalion Chief Deputy Fire Marshal Ray Scott said Wednesday.

Building codes allow houses to be built at least three feet from the property line. This places two homes, built mainly of wood and plastics, within six feet of each other — a situation that could allow fire to spread quickly from one structure to another, fire officials say.

Scott doesn’t believe the code was ever intended to accommodate subdivisions with small lots which are being built more and more in Prince William County.

Fire can spread from one house to another within four-and-a-half minutes, he said.

If the conflagration breaks through the window of a burning structure, it can rapidly ignite its neighbor’s walls, which are not required to be protected with fire-resistant materials.

This is a dangerous truth when factoring in the time it takes to dispatch a call, and for units to arrive on scene, among other factors that affect response time, Scott said.

Prince William fire marshals are proposing a state-wide building code change to the Virginia Board of Housing and Community Development.

The Prince William Board of County Supervisors has endorsed the proposed modification in a letter to the housing board.

Crase supports the fire marshals’ move to change the codes, but thinks the Board of County Supervisors should be taking steps to change the local code as well.

“I realize there will probably be a [construction] cost involved, but there’s no comparison to saving lives,” the 54-year-old woman said.

Scott believes the changes would be better adopted regionally.

“It appears that the [state] codes don’t address the fire problem we have,” Scott said. “We have thousands of these properties that have been approved.”

And given the rapid growth in the region, the demand for housing will not subside, he says.

“If you want to build homes, if you want to have them in the densities we’re accustomed to, if you want to have that, you have to build fire protection into the building,” Scott said.

There are at least three changes that need to be made to housing standards, according to Scott.

Buildings need adequate distance between them with the distance determined by the size of the building.

Fire-resistant materials, which would add approximately $500 to the cost of the house, should be used on the sides of houses, which are located in close proximity to another.

Fire suppression systems such as sprinklers should be installed to contain the spread of the fire.

When the Crase family’s home was under construction three years ago, a house across the street burned and fire spread to the houses on each side. One was destroyed and the other was damaged.

The house where the fire originated was still under construction and wasn’t yet insulated or dry-walled, according to Brian Dietz, marketing coordinator for the Hylton Group, which builds houses in Villas of Trentdale. Dry wall slows the pace of fires, he said.

Dietz says the proposed changes to the code would be acceptable to his company if the county or state adopts them.

The Lake Ridge, Occoquan, Coles Association Planning, Environment, Land Use and Transportation Committee has endorsed the fire marshals’ proposal. The committee chairman could not be reached Wednesday or Thursday.

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