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Six-Alarm Fire Reignites Edgewater's AvalonBay Debate

A recent six-alarm fire is reigniting debate on Edgewater's AvalonBay construction project.
A recent six-alarm fire is reigniting debate on Edgewater's AvalonBay construction project. Photo Credit: Bill Tompkins

EDGEWATER, N.J. — A six-alarm fire that destroyed part of a Maplewood apartment complex is reigniting debate on the recently-approved Edgewater AvalonBay apartment complex that's burned down twice before.

The Maplewood complex, which went up in flames on Feb. 4, is made from the same lightweight, wood-framing that will soon make up the Edgewater building.

The Edgewater Zoning Board recently approved AvalonBay to rebuild the twice-destroyed Edgewater Apartment complex – again using the same lightweight wood-frame construction — and has been deemed unsafe by building experts.

This time, added fire safety features beyond the state building code minimum include an extensive fire sprinkler system, masonry firewalls, and storage space for fire ladders.

Saturday's Maplewood could reignite the debate.

“The Edgewater and Maplewood fires should serve as a catalyst for change to strengthen our building codes and fire prevention efforts. We can’t wait for another tragedy where lives may be lost,” said Assemblyman John Wisniewski, chairman of the New Jersey Fire Safety Commission.

Wisniewski has introduced legislation seeking to amend the New Jersey state construction code for fire safety reasons.

According to reports, the Maplewood building, also an AvalonBay project, was built using a higher fire safety standard than what was featured at the 2015 Edgewater site, including additional sprinklers.

It remains unclear whether the Maplewood complex was constructed at the same standard as the Edgewater complex currently under development, a press release says.

A September 2016 poll of registered New Jersey voters found respondents were very supportive of the state making changes to construction codes in the wake of the 2015 Edgewater fire. According to the poll, ninety-five percent are supportive of changes to construction codes.

New Jersey voters overwhelmingly support legislative changes to make buildings in the state more resistant to fires and natural disasters. This includes support for a requirement for concrete and steel frames for buildings over three stories high, as well as proposed legislation that would place limits on construction with wood. In addition to the poll, a new video and infographic examining the Edgewater fire and the reaction from the community was released.

"These fires should cause state lawmakers and members of the building code community to pause and consider the consequences when analyzing regulations and legislation that permits the use of vulnerable construction methods," said Kevin Lawlor, a spokesperson for Build with Strength.

"Fortunately, no one was killed in these fires, but as long as the regulatory environment authorizes this type of development, the threat will remain, it’s up to state lawmakers to protect their constituents."

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