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May

Developer: Yonkers fire was not caused by materials; sprinkler systems not fully installed – The Journal News / Lohud.com

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Firefighters battle a massive smoky blaze at an apartment building under construction on Warburton Avenue in Yonkers on Thursday, May 18, 2017.
Aerial video courtesy of NBC New York

YONKERS – A luxury apartment complex under construction didn’t have its sprinklers installed yet when it was severely damaged by fire Thursday.

The lightweight materials used at 1177 Warburton Ave. were also not responsible for the blaze, said a spokesman for Ginsburg Development Companies. No one was injured during the fire.

Ginsburg spokesman Geoff Thompson wrote in an email Friday that 1177@Greystone was designed and built to “strictly meet all construction and material codes.”

“Thursday morning’s fire had nothing to do with either construction method or materials,” Thompson said. “A thorough investigation to determine the cause of the fire is being conducted by the City of Yonkers fire and police authorities.”

Yonkers officials declined to comment Friday on the fire or its cause, citing an ongoing investigation.

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New York’s fire safety codes for new low-rise apartments like the Ginsburg’s 1177@Greystone call for sprinklers, walls and barriers that can resist the passage of flames, but fire walls or sprinklers are often not functional until the final phases of a construction project.

The three-story complex was about 70 percent complete when the fire struck, according to the developer. The damage is expected to postpone the opening of the $19 million project from the fall to the late spring of 2018.

“When a building is complete, the fire can’t spread like it did,” said Dave Raines, president of the New York State Fire Marshals and Inspectors Association. “That’s really the vulnerability. During construction, you have the potential for a fire spreading very quickly because you have no fire stopping.”

Ginsburg is completing a much larger residential project just steps away from Thursday’s fire. The 330-unit River Tides at Greystone, which celebrated a partial opening Tuesday, is not built like 1177@Greystone because it is a high-rise.

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New York’s building code requires a variety of fire-safety measures that depend on a building’s size, height and number of units. Once a building rises above six stories, state codes require that its skeleton be steel and concrete.

On Friday, the charred skeleton of 1177@Greystone revealed wood posts, some steel and plastic or fiberglass siding.

Raines, of Patterson, said the materials used in lightweight resident construction are flammable and allowed under New York’s fire code. He said similar construction materials were used at Hughson Commons, a 94-unit apartment complex in Carmel that caught fire in November.

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Raines said sprinklers in Hughson Commons’ apartments activated, so only four units were damaged by fire. That complex was already occupied.

“That’s a completed building very similar to this one in Yonkers and you saw how the construction was able to stop the fire,” Raines said.

Gerald R. DeLuca, the executive director of the New York State Association of Fire Chiefs, said the lightweight construction used in low-rise apartments and single-family homes is “a great concern to the fire services.”

DeLuca echoed Raines’ assessment that new housing is most at risk of fire while under construction. DeLuca said he doesn’t like light weight material because it burns faster and hotter than materials used in older, more “traditional legacy homes.”

“These material, while structurally sound, do not hold up well to fire,” DeLuca said. “It saves builders money, but they can cost firefighters’ lives.”

Twitter: @ErnieJourno

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