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N.C. fire marshal: Contractor violated fire codes before massive fire

The Charlotte SouthPark contractor did not have a required standpipe installed and failed to notify fire marshal about construction progress


Charlotte firefighters battle a 5-alarm fire at a construction site on May 18, 2023.

Charlotte Fire Department/Twitter

By Ames Alexander, Ryan Oehrli
The Charlotte Observer

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Prior to the massive fire that killed two construction workers near SouthPark Mall, a contractor building luxury apartments violated the state fire code, the Charlotte Fire Department said Wednesday.

No fire inspection was done at the Modera SouthPark construction site, where the five-alarm fire began last month. That’s because the contractor failed to alert the Charlotte Fire Marshal’s office about its construction and progress, as Mecklenburg County requires, the fire department said in a news release.

Mecklenburg County requires builders to contact the fire marshal before constructing buildings over 40 feet so that a fire inspection can be performed.

Fire officials also said no standpipe — a vertical water pipe to which fire hoses can be connected — had been installed at the 239-unit apartment building. The state fire code requires that at least one standpipe be installed during construction.

A spokesperson for Mill Creek Residential, the Florida-based developer on the project, could not immediately be reached for comment.

The contractor on the project is listed on the building permit as MCRT Carolinas Construction LLC, which appears to be related to Mill Creek. The CEO of MCRT is William C. MacDonald, according to Secretary of State records. MacDonald also serves as the CEO of Mill Creek.

The fire on May 18 reduced much of the construction site to char. Firefighters and a crane operator rescued 15 people, firefighters on the scene said. The blaze shot a smoke plume into the sky that could be seen for miles. Its embers spread to other buildings and sparked spot fires.

Two workers trapped on the sixth floor — 30-year-old Demonte Sherrill and 48-year-old Reuben Holmes — died in the fire.

[Rapid Response: Charlotte leaders detail ‘unprecedented’ construction site fire, secondary blaze response]

The builders were using an increasingly common style of construction — known as pedestal or podium construction — in which the bottom story is made of non-combustible material like concrete or steel and the upper floors are built with wood.

While international building codes adopted by North Carolina allow for wood-frame buildings, some fire science experts worry about their vulnerability to fire.

Local and state fire safety officials are discussing implementing more fire-prevention requirements at large wooden-building construction sites after the deadly Charlotte blaze, The Charlotte Observer has reported.

Codes and enforcement are handled at the local level, North Carolina Fire Marshal Brian Taylor told The Charlotte Observer.

Charlotte Fire Marshal Kevin Miller and spokespeople for the Charlotte Fire Department did not immediately respond to questions.

Fire officials say the blaze began in a trailer on the first floor of the building. In its news release, the fire department said it had no new information on what sparked the fire, but added: “Fire Investigators determined multiple accidental heat sources were in the trailer.”

On Tuesday, a state committee met to discuss potential updates to the state’s fire code. Among other things, the Fire Code Revision Committee is weighing whether to adopt new National Fire Protection Association standards pertaining to safety at construction sites.

Inspectors around the state have also reached out to Taylor’s office for guidance on safety at construction sites, he said.

“It is on everyone’s mind after that fire,” Taylor said.

©2023 The Charlotte Observer.
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