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Fire officials say burned Juneau apartment building was high-risk

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Posted: Sunday, November 11, 2012 3:09 pm | Updated: 12:10 pm, Mon Jan 21, 2013.

JUNEAU, Alaska - Juneau fire officials say the burned Gastineau Apartments building has long been considered a high-risk building.

Nathan Young, the fire department's chief training officer, said lack of a sprinkler system, numerous void spaces and poor exterior access are among factors that make the 95-year-old downtown building a dangerous "target hazard" in terms of firefighting. The building burned last week.

"This is an extremely dangerous building," Young told the Juneau Empire (http://is.gd/saMWuJ). "If you were to rate the severity of danger in a building, let's say from one to 10, this is an 11, when you look at firefighting in general."

Other older buildings in the downtown historic area are considered hazards, particularly because they are close to each other and are not required to have sprinkler systems.

Charlie Ford, a city building codes official, said buildings are subjected codes in place when they are constructed. The G astineau Apartments were built in 1917 before codes were in place, so the building and other buildings in town are not required by the International Building Code to have sprinklers.

The fire department has recommended retrofitting the buildings in the past, but the idea was usually met with resistance because of the cost involved, Young said. He believes a sprinkler system could have made a difference in last week's apartment fire.

"If this was a sprinklered building with a properly operating sprinkler system, this would have been a very small fire that would have been put out in minutes," Young said.

No injuries or fatalities were reported in the blaze, which burned for nine hours and displaced about 50 residents. The building has since been condemned until it is safe to re-enter.

Also of concern are the void spaces in the building, which has been renovated many times over the years.

"It's been added on to and renovated so many different times that th ere are numerous void spaces which the fire can get into and run uncontrolled, and you don't even know it until it pops up in a completely different part of the building," Young said.

The building did have fire doors in the hallway that separated the original front building and a second back building. The doors automatically closed when the fire alarm sounded.

"If the fire doors weren't there or they hadn't been functioning, this entire building would have burned, which would have been horrifically scary," Young said.

Fire Marshal Daniel Jager said the building was not in violation during a recent fire department inspection. There have been violations in the past, he said.

© 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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