The parent company of Avalon on the Hudson, which saw much of its luxury apartment complex in Edgewater, New Jersey, destroyed in a fast-moving inferno last month, said Wednesday it would enhance the fire protection systems at similarly built communities soon to be constructed.
AvalonBay Communities said it will incorporate additional sprinklers throughout the properties in Princeton and Maplewood, including in the attics, closet spaces and between the ceilings and floors. It also said it would install masonry firewalls, which is not legally required for buildings made with the type of high density wood frame construction Avalon uses.
Construction on the new projects will begin "in the near feature," AvalonBay said.
“We remain highly enthusiastic about our long-term prospects in the Garden State,” Ronald Ladell, senior vice president of AvalonBay, said in a statement. “By continuing to work with local governmental and community leaders throughout New Jersey, we will continue to build distinctive, welcoming and safe communities.”
The move comes less than a month after a seven-alarm blaze engulfed the Avalon complex in Edgewater, displacing more than 100 people and reducing their belongings to charred rubble. At the time, officials and experts questioned whether a certain type of home construction -- Avalon's high density, lightweight wood style -- helped fuel the fire, which spread stunningly quickly despite the fact the buildings that comprised the complex were up to code and had sprinklers.
No significant injuries were reported, though officials said pets likely perished in the blaze.
Edgewater Fire Chief Thomas Jacobson said he thought the lightweight wood construction of the complex fueled the fire.
"If it were cinderblock and cement, we wouldn’t have this problem," he said last month.
Lightweight material is often made of engineered and not solid wood, causing it to burn fast, according to Glenn Corbett, who teaches fire science at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Despite its hazards, the materials are very common, he said.
"This is a very prevalent type of construction all over the country," Corbett said. "Fire can burn unimpeded through these spaces very, very quickly.”
An I-Team investigation shortly after the Edgewater blaze found that the parent company of Avalon on the Hudson, AvalonBay Communities, has a checkered history with fire safety.
In 2000, while the same Edgewater complex was under construction, a fire burned everything to the ground and destroyed nine nearby homes. Later, six people who lost homes in the fire won settlements from AvalonBay.
In July 2011, fire destroyed an AvalonBay apartment complex in Quincy, Massachusetts. Faulty construction and a lack of fire barriers were found to have contributed to the damage.
Fire also destroyed a building at an AvalonBay complex under construction in Garden City, New York in April 2012.
And in October 2012, the New York City Department of Buildings cited the company for having inadequate fire extinguishers at a complex on Manhattan’s West Side.
In response to the I-Team's story last month, AvalonBay said in a statement that the Edgewater "the community was built in accordance with the fire and safety codes applicable at the time."