Construction rep says site security can prevent fires

Builders should take responsibility for the security of their work sites to reduce the risk of hazards such as fire, a construction industry spokesman said Wednesday.

Greg Baynton, head of the Vancouver Island Construction Association, said security measures to discourage intruders, such as fences, lights, motion sensors or security guards, are all reasonable steps for builders to take.

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Baynton said those measures are particularly important during the framing stage. That’s when a building sits with bare wood in a well-ventilated space, prime for a fire.

“A building is very vulnerable when it’s at the framing stage and no one is on site,” he said. “But a lot can be addressed with basic security steps.”

He was speaking in the wake of a spectacular fire that ripped through a construction project in the 4000 block of Cedar Hill Road in Saanich on Sunday. The blaze burned so hot, it melted siding on houses across the street and damaged fire trucks.

Police and fire officials are investigating the blaze as suspicious.

At least 14 people, occupants of units in two completed buildings on the site that were damaged in the fire, have not been allowed to return home.

Sgt. Julie Fast, spokeswoman for Saanich police, said two units are too damaged to be inhabited. Until the other units are inspected and declared safe, their occupants will not be allowed to return.

Fast said an excavator was used to clear burned rubble on Wednesday, allowing investigators access to look for the cause of the fire.

The Saanich Fire Department blocked Cedar Hill Road near the fire site for several hours Wednesday morning to examine the site and take aerial photos.

When the fire erupted, the three-storey townhouse project had a roof but was otherwise at the framing stage. Bare wood sat exposed and fire-resistant materials such as drywall had not been installed.

Afterward, a Saanich building inspector told the Times Colonist that building codes are mostly silent on fire prevention during the frame-up stage of construction.

It’s a safety issue recognized and discussed by regulators. But so far, none of the concerns have made their way into building codes.

As the construction industry adjusts to the provincial Wood First Act, it’s an issue likely to become more acute in the coming years. The 2009 act allows wood-frame buildings to exceed four storeys.

Baynton agreed building codes don’t deal much with fire prevention. But he was reluctant to call for more rules.

“We are already struggling with a great deal of red tape and the cost of affordable housing,” he said.

“But if you take a number of reasonable steps, you can mitigate the risks quite a bit.

“There is no silver bullet here.”

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