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Fire-ravaged condos lacked latest safety equipment - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Fire-ravaged condos lacked latest safety equipment

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Courtesy: Andy Yager Courtesy: Andy Yager
WARREN, Vt. -

The wreckage of what used to be part of the Mountainside condos smolders more than a day after fire swept through the 36 unit complex.

Neighbors like Ditmar Kopf recall waking up to the shocking scene early Monday.

"The flames were shooting through the top of the building, over the tops of the trees," Kopf said.

The official cause of Monday's blaze is still under investigation, but sources tell WCAX News it was likely a wood burning stove. Kopf, who works as a ski instructor and owns a similar unit next door, says most of his neighbors are aware the buildings are older and don't have today's fire safety features.

"I worry more about the renters that come in occasionally and might not be aware of hazards of the fireplace," Kopf said. "I've heard people go to bed with the fireplace or people trying to use it to heat the apartments and it's not really what they're meant for."

All the units of the complex were occupied when the fire broke out. State officials say even though a manual central alarm system was never pulled, everyone got out safe.

This and many other similar condo units around the state that were built in the 1970s are exempt from today's modern building codes that include one-hour fire walls and sprinkler systems.

"Without the fire separation between the dwelling units and without sprinkler system protection, these fires are very hard to control once they get up into the attic areas," said Michael Derochers of the Vt. Division of Fire Safety.

Mountainside's property manager, Ed Read, says installing a sprinkler system has not been a priority for the condo association.

"Retrofitting a sprinkler system-- it's a big expense and the condominium association every year spends money on different capital projects. This one does not have a sprinkler system," Read said.

Fire officials say the problem is these older vacation condo units are everywhere.

"We have a lot of older stock," Derochers said. "We also have a lot of these condominium-type structures that we haven't inspected, so we try to be proactive getting out and inspecting them. But we have a high demand on our resources now just keeping up with the new construction."

Although Sugarbush Resort does not own the Mountainside condos, it is involved with property management of other units. And officials say visitors should not be concerned about safety.

"Unfortunately, things can happen. They can happen in a new building as well as an old building, as well. We try to make sure that what we represent is certainly safe," said Win Smith of the Sugarbush Resort.

Because you never know who's living in the next unit, fire safety officials say it's good for both residents and visitors to have a plan, something Ditmar Kopf is already on top of.

"We all have our evacuation plans just in case there is a fire," Kopf said.

Initial estimates of the damage were put at $2 million, but officials here say it's likely to run much higher.

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