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Construction companies fined over $56K for violations in fatal N.C. fire

Two workers were killed in the massive SouthPark construction site fire in Charlotte in May


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The Charlotte Observer

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The North Carolina Labor Department has fined three companies a total of more than $56,000 for an array of violations related to the massive fire in May that killed two construction workers in SouthPark.

The largest of the fines — $46,875 — was issued against MCRT Carolinas Construction LLC, the contractor on the 239-unit apartment building, Modera SouthPark. Inspectors found the exits of the seven-story wooden building weren’t arranged to provide an easy way out for the workers who were trapped inside the building when the five-alarm blaze broke out on May 18.

The two workers who died were more than 460 feet from the only stairway exit, one citation said.

“With only a single stairway and its location on the northern end of the building, the exit was not so arranged as to provide free and unobstructed egress from all locations inside the building,” the citation said.

[PREVIOUSLY: N.C. fire marshal – Contractor violated fire codes before massive fire]

Workers Reuben Holmes and Demonte Sherrill were on the building’s sixth floor on the morning of the fire. They were about a football field away from the only exit, they told their boss in a panicked phone call just after 9:20 am, the Observer reported earlier this year. The supervisor of those two workers, Keith Suggs, said he instructed them to get on the floor and crawl toward the stairwell exit.

But they said the smoke was too thick for them to see the exit, Suggs said. Their remains were later discovered in the charred rubble.

“I wish there was another set of stairs on the other end of that building,” Suggs said previously. “My guys would have had another chance to escape.”

Firefighters were able to rescue 15 other workers who got stuck in the building.

[RELATED: ‘Murph, it’s time to climb': N.C. captain describes rescue of crane operator]

State inspectors also found the employer did not develop and implement an emergency response plan, and that it had not established an alarm system to alert employees about such emergencies.

Officials for MCRT Carolinas could not immediately be reached for comment.

SouthPark apartments will be rebuilt

Mill Creek Residential Trust, the project’s Boca Raton -based developer, said it will rebuild both of the buildings that burned in its Modera SouthPark community.

In a statement to The Charlotte Observer, Mill Creek Residential said, “We take matters relating to safety very seriously and will cooperate fully with authorities. We are forever mindful of the grief caused by this tragedy and will continue to implement best practices to help avoid situations like this in the future.”

NC citations for other companies

The Department of Labor also fined subcontractor Kentucky Overhead Door, Inc. $6,250 for two violations — not having a written respiratory program and not having a list of hazardous chemicals on the site. The company was doing business as Baker Insulation.

Two other serious violations against Kentucky Overhead Door carried no monetary penalties, records show.

And the department fined subcontractor Diversified Insulation, LLC, $3,125 for not maintaining and making readily available to workers copies of safety data sheets for hazardous material.

The blaze was apparently sparked when spray foam insulation caught fire on the ground floor. More than 90 firefighters, from the Charlotte Fire Department and five neighboring departments, flocked to the SouthPark Towers area to get the fire under control.

The companies have 15 working days to contest the citations.

The issue of construction safety has recently been a significant concern around fast-growing Charlotte.

On Jan. 2, three Charlotte construction workers died and two others were injured when scaffolding they were on collapsed The three who died — Jose Canaca, Gilberto Monico Fernández and Jesus “Chuy” Olivares — fell about 70 feet while working at a construction site on Morehead Street, near uptown Charlotte and Dilworth.

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