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Fire officials: Sprinkler systems curb destruction in blazing apartments

In nearly identical fires, sprinklers prevented over $1M in damages

hweikel@conleynet.com 262-513-2651

WAUKESHA — In two seemingly identical apartment fires — both occurred late at night from smoldering cigarettes that weren’t put out completely before they were tossed aside — had drastically different outcomes because only one had a fire suppression sprinkler system, according to Waukesha’s assistant fire chief.

Half of a building was destroyed and residents are still without homes after a fire ignited from poorly discarded smoking materials on a balcony at Rivercrest Apartments on West St. Paul Avenue late last month. Investigators and the building owner are still assessing the damage’s cost, but the damaged portion will need to be entirely rebuilt, officials say.

Another fire at Maple Village Apartments in March also sprung from smoking materials, but was extinguished almost immediately by a fire sprinkler system that’s now required by state and local ordinances in all new multifamily residential buildings with three or more units, said Waukesha Assistant Fire Chief Joseph Hoffman.

“Sprinkler systems work and they work well,” Hoffman said, adding that the damages at Maple Village totaled about $8,000 while damages at Rivercrest will easily amount to between $500,000 and $750,000.

Hoffman said structure fires immediately put out by heat-sensing sprinklers don’t receive the same kind of attention from the public as destructive, devastating fires in buildings without sprinklers.

Residents were allowed back into Maple Village within hours of the fire, while those at Rivercrest have been displaced for nearly a month and will have to completely rebuild their lives, Waukesha Fire Marshall Brian Charlesworth said.

Due to a city ordinance adopted in 2002, Rivercrest could be required to include a sprinkler system when it is repaired, Charlesworth said.

Sprinkler requirements

Waukesha adopted a ordinance in 2002 that requires all new residential buildings with three or more units to include sprinkler systems, Charlesworth said. Any apartments built before 2002 did not have to retroactively implement the systems,

See SPRINKLERS, PAGE 8A

Between $500,000 and $750,000 in damage was done at Rivercrest Apartments last month after a fire started on a second-floor balcony. Fire officials say damage could have been avoided with a sprinkler system.

Photos courtesy of Waukesha Fire Department

Extensive fire damage was avoided at Maple Village in March after a poorly discarded cigarette ignited the balcony but was suppressed by the sprinkler system.

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