The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

January 29, 2008

Other fireplaces may have same fault as deadly Seven Springs condo

CHAMPION — A code inspector will look into the construction of a fireplace that investigators have linked to a fire that killed two people and destroyed five condos on Sunday in Middlecreek Township.

Like some other homes erected in the early 1980s, a wooden-frame chimney there was built around a metal flue. The setup works until the metal begins to rust.

“The problem is, the flue corrodes and gets little pinholes,” said Alan Baumgardner, owner of Somerset County Building Inspections. “The sparks can get out into the wood.”

Baumgardner will perform an inspection this week. He estimated that hundreds of condo units in the area could have the same type fireplace.

“Prior to (the Uniform Construction Code) in ’04, it was pretty much a do-your-own-thing deal,” he added.

Jon Murt, 22, and Sasha Zuro, 26, died of smoke inhalation in the blaze that began shortly after 1 a.m., and state police Fire Marshal Terry Wilson has ruled the incident accidental.

Wilson said the deadly fire likely was sparked by an outdated fireplace in the condo where Murt and Zuro, both of Belle Vernon, had planned to spend a night.

The blaze broke out in the 12-unit, four-story condominium along SunRidge Road, part of The Villages at Seven Springs.

The resort owns none of the condos where resort visitors can stay, Seven Springs President Scott Bender said. All of the condomin-iums are privately owned, he said.

Code deficiencies play a major role in fires across the country, said Tom Olshanski, spokesman for the U.S. Fire Administration.

“Sure, it was built to code at that time,” Olshanski said. “What is unfortunate is that we see individuals losing their lives according to code.”

In Pennsylvania, each municipality must adopt its own code guidelines and inspectors. Until the Uniform Construction Code was passed, municipalities had little guidance.

Changes in construction are making homes less susceptible to fire, Olshanski said.

“Every new building going up is safer than those built before,” he added.

Kipp Forlines, owner of the development company that built the condos, did not return calls for comment Tuesday.

Baumgardner was unsure how much it might cost to update a wooden-frame chimney.

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