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South Park construction fire: Officials say site didn't meet state safety requirements

The department responded to questions from WCNC Charlotte about what safety measures were in place before the deadly fire broke out.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Charlotte Fire Department said the construction site at the center of a deadly fire in May was missing two crucial fire safety measures at the time of the fire. 

The site didn't have an active standpipe, and the builder did not have a required pre-fire safety plan before the fire broke out.

WCNC Charlotte investigative reporter Nate Morabito asked the department Tuesday for more information to determine if the site of what would have become an apartment complex was up to code. On Wednesday, the department sent out a release revealing new details.

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While Charlotte Fire stressed there was no new information on how the flames were ignited, the department did confirm there was no active standpipe on site. The North Carolina Fire Code requires multi-story buildings under construction to have one, as they provide a water source directly on site in case of fires.

Additionally, the builder or general contractor is obligated by Mecklenburg County and the state to contact the Charlotte Fire Marshal's Office before construction goes past 40 feet in height to develop a pre-fire plan and get it approved. When the fire broke out on May 18, the construction site had reached six total stories. However, Charlotte Fire said the builder had not reached out to them prior to that.

“Two individuals lost their lives," Tom Brewer, President of the Charlotte Firefighters' Association said. "We almost lost firefighters as well and all of this could have been avoided.”

Brewer explained to WCNC Charlotte if the building had a pre-fire plan, fire inspectors would've come to the site and identified a standpipe was needed. 

The plans are meant to ensure construction sites are fully equipped to handle a fire in case of emergencies. 

"This is all laid out to the builders when they're supposed to contact the fire department for additional inspections,” Brewer said.

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The site did, however, have at least one exit as required by code.

WCNC Charlotte's Julia Kauffman spoke with the director of safety for Carolinas Associated General Contractors, Jacob Garmon. 

"If you don’t meet those inspections and don’t do the correct thing, there are monetary fines, there’s all kinds of different penalties you can be cited," Garmon explained.   

The North Carolina Department of Labor is investigating the fire, which is expected to take several months. That investigation will likely determine whether there are possible penalties the builder may face.

City ordinances say violations of the state fire code can result in a misdemeanor charge and a $500 fine for each violation. It’s unclear if state and federal fines can and will be added on top of city citations. 

WCNC Charlotte has reached out to the builder, Mill Creek Residential, for comment.

The fire claimed the lives of two workers who were trapped on the site: Demonte Sherrill and Ruben Holmes.  Sherrill was laid to rest on June 3, about two weeks after the fire.

Contact Nate Morabito at nmorabito@wcnc.com and follow him on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

Contact Julia Kauffman at jkauffman@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram  

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