oakland fire…

Reading early reports of a massive fire in downtown Oakland at a construction site where 6 stories of apartments were being built.  While there’s no word on the cause yet, a quick Google Maps street view…

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…shows that as of March the building was up a couple of stories.  While the lower level (designed to be retail storefronts) are all obviously reinforced concrete, the upper stories are all lightweight timber with foam insulation.  Those would all get sprinklered, one assumes, but the material itself is not only not fire-resistant, it’s actually flammable.  Hard to tell from the street, but this view doesn’t show anything like fire walls being constructed to separate elements of the whole-block-long site from one another, which would mean that once it starts, there’s not much to start a fire from racing through the light frame construction.

So, all perfectly legal, but a reminder that, as at Grenfell Tower, the gradual retreat in code-world from fire-resistant materials in multi-story buildings isn’t a slam dunk.  Sprinklers save lives, and the latest thoughts on timber high rises all assume heavy, ‘slow burning’ construction instead of the lightweight stuff here.  Still, a sobering reminder that what buildings are made out of can make a huge difference in how they perform in emergencies…

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