Lucky Stop

We recently had a fire in an apartment complex.  The apartments all have exterior entrances independent of each other.  They are two stories in height and the landings from the upper floor units are unprotected treated lumber.

These were built prior to my current position and I don’t remember what year they were built, but I am guessing that they are about 12 years old.  The fire started in a plastic planter that was next to the door and had what the tenant called “very old” potting soil in it.  The tenant used the planter as a receptacle for her cigarettes.

Plastic Planter

As the fire grew, it spread to the vinyl siding and got into the soffit and on into the attic. Luckily the tenant happened to wake up and noticed a glow on the porch; no smoke detectors were activated and the unit next door was vacant.

All occupants escaped with no injuries and fire crews quickly arrived and made a good find and stop.

When they started doing overhaul they noticed something a little different about the fire barrier between the two units.

As you look at the picture below, you will notice in the upper right hand side of the photo the charred truss chase that did not extend to the left due to the draft stopping.

Draft Stopping

However, this could have been worse because this should have been a continuous fire barrier between the two units.  In addition the draft stopping should be protecting both sides of the truss shown.

The problem that the builder ran into was that the truss did not line up with the separation wall and the code official at the time either missed it or let it slide.

It was a good example of how these measures work.  It was also a good opportunity to show the building manager how it worked and why it is important to do these things right.

If you get a chance to look at some of these buildings as they are going up, do so and look for these types of building components and fire stopping.  Oh, the ceiling did have the proper rating with two sheets of drywall.

Fire Stop the Breach

Also, that wire is a breach or penetration in the fire barrier/draft stop and should be fire stopped with rated, UL listed caulk.

Stay safe out there and be careful.


  • Ed Berkel, Fire Marshal Mehlville FPD says:


    A couple minor code concerns with your posting. Since we don’t know the exact age or code applicable, I’m guessing that it was either 1996 or 1999 BOCA National Building Code (requirements are very similar).

    The general requirement for Use Group R draftstopping is in line with dwelling unit separation walls; however, there is an exception that allows those not over 4 stories in height to be draftstopped every 3,000 sf. or above every 2 dwelling units whichever is smaller. May have been the case here.

    As a draftstop, the single layer of drywall is appropriate. The draftsop is only that and has no fire resistance rating. Therefore, rated caulk would not be required (although a very good idea) at the electrical penetration.

  • Jason says:

    Ed, thanks for the info. Yes, I believe this was BOCA 1999, but am not for certain. You are also correct in that this building is less than 4 stories. Thanks for the clarification and thanks for visiting and commenting, I appreciate the extra input.

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