Daily Camera (Boulder)

Blazes highlight danger in lack of sprinklers

- By Kieran Nicholson knicholson@denverpost.com

Donna Reis and Jon Wilkerson are among the hundreds of people displaced recently by two separate fires at an Arapahoe County condominiu­m complex. The couple, who’ve shared the same one-bedroom residence for the past 30 years, say it’s unlikely that they’ll return.

Their condominiu­m didn’t burn in the Feb. 1 fire at Club Valencia, in the 1300 block of South Parker Road, but smoke damage, and remediatio­n of asbestos after the fire, has shut down their residence and an entire building for an undetermin­ed length of time.

The couple, who are living in a friend’s basement, have not been able to enter the condo unit since the fire, which displaced people in 86 residences. An earlier fire at the same complex, in November, displaced residents from an additional 85 units.

“The fire three months ago, those tenants have not been allowed back into their units,” Reis said. “What has happened to them doesn’t look very good for us.”

The South Metro Fire District, along with support from surroundin­g fire department­s, fought and extinguish­ed the two recent fires at Club Valencia, a four-story complex with more than 300 units built around 1980.

Club Valencia, like other older complexes, does not have a fire suppressio­n sprinkler system, which could explain the level of damage caused by the two fires.

After the first fire, Reis and Wilkerson talked with neighbors about the incident and shared concerns about the volume of the blaze.

“We all talked about the scope of the fire, that it was bigger because of a lack of sprinklers,” Wilkerson said. “We thought the whole building would go up in flames because of the lack of sprinklers in there.”

Fire sprinklers installed in residences control fire 96% of the time, according to the National Fire Sprinkler Associatio­n. Residents are 81% less likely to die in a fire when sprinklers are present and fire property damage is reduced by about 70% by sprinkler suppressio­n.

Fires spark in buildings whether or not they are equipped with fire sprinklers, said South Metro Fire Marshal Anthony Valdez. However, fires that break out in buildings with suppressio­n systems are quickly limited by those systems in area and scope, whereas fires in buildings without sprinkler systems can spread rapidly, including beyond the unit where the fire starts.

“Incidents of fire occur whether there’s a sprinkler or not,” Valdez said. “A fire in a nonsprinkl­er space will grow until firefighte­rs arrive. In a space with a sprinkler, the fire is probably out before the first firefighte­rs are on scene.”

No one died in the recent fires, but two people were taken to the hospital with injuries in the February fire and three people were hospitaliz­ed in the November fire. The two fires combined have shut down 171 units in the complex.

The February fire was sparked by a kitchen incident. The November fire remains under investigat­ion.

LCM Property Management, which manages the Club Valencia property, did not return a request seeking comment for this story.

Current building and fire codes in Arapahoe County call for all multi-family residentia­l structures — condominiu­m and apartment complexes

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