Los Angeles Fire Prompts Call for Probe of Wood Frame

In the aftermath of the harrowing fire that reduced a half-built apartment complex in downtown Los Angeles to ashes, a city councilman introduced a motion Friday questioning whether wood-frame construction contributed to the devastating fire, reports The Los Angeles Times.

Investigators are still sorting through the debris left behind by the conflagration that razed the seven-story, 526-unit project and caused significant damage to the adjacent 110 Freeway and surrounding buildings. Authorities have said it may be weeks, if not months, before they can pinpoint a cause.

City Councilman Bob Blumenfield in a motion Friday raised questions about the fire’s implications for wood-framed buildings that are increasingly used throughout the city. The destroyed apartment complex, the Da Vinci, had five wooden-frame stories sitting on top of two concrete-walled floors. In the motion, he asked city officials to take a hard look at whether further restrictions should be placed on wood-frame constructions for residential buildings.

Luke Zamperini, spokesman for the city’s Department of Building and Safety, said wood-frame apartment buildings “are the most common, both past and present and in all neighborhoods.” Fire experts said while wood-frame buildings are just as safe as steel-framed or concrete buildings when completed, they are highly vulnerable for a few months during construction before fire safety measures such as sprinklers and non-combustible walls are installed.

“You have a building that’s basically a pile of wooden sticks. When you get a fire going it’s going to take the whole building out,” said John DeHaan, a veteran forensic fire scientist. “It’s like fighting a wildland fire: All you can do is slow it down until it runs out of fuel.”

DeHaan said destructive fires at wooden-frame buildings under construction are becoming increasingly common in the U.S. and elsewhere as developers turn to wood frames for multi-story structures because they are cheaper and more environmentally friendly.

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