London blaze makes US building owners mindful of fire threat

ATLANTA (AP) — U.S. building owners should review what materials their structures are built with following a deadly fire in London that showed how flames can quickly cover a high-rise, devouring it from the outside, fire experts said Friday.

An Associated Press review found that the manufacturer of the panels used in the London tower said the same panels were used in some U.S. buildings. However, many building owners were unaware of that.

British authorities are investigating whether those Reynobond PE panels and other materials helped spread flames across the doomed Grenfell Tower.

“I think the public has this awareness of this stuff they never had before, and the building owners have more awareness,” said Robert Solomon, a fire protection engineer with the National Fire Protection Association.

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That awareness is prompting a renewed look at exterior materials — often called cladding — at several U.S. buildings.

Local fire marshals are among the best resources for anyone concerned about a building’s safety, said Jon Narva, a spokesman with the National Association of State Fire Marshals.

“The fire marshals are going to be aware of the circumstances surrounding the Grenfell fire, and they should be able to help any concerned building owners with finding out information,” Narva said.

Officials are awaiting test results to determine if the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront hotel, which rises more than 30 stories over the city’s harbor, used Reynobond PE panels.

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New York-based Arconic Inc. has stopped selling those panels for use in high-rise buildings.

In general, U.S. buildings made of concrete, steel or glass will merit few concerns, Solomon said.

“If you have something that’s not in those three categories, people are starting to take a look at that,” Solomon said.

Building owners with concerns can remove a two-story section about 10 feet wide and test it for fire spread — a roughly $30,000 full-scale test to see how the entire section as it is constructed on the building reacts to fire, Solomon said.

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“One of the things we periodically hear is that it’s too expensive to test all these combinations of materials,” Solomon said. “As a fire engineer, I just scratch my head. You think $30,000 is too much to spend on a $50 million building project?”

Though Marriott officials say they are awaiting test results on the building, the company has not specified what type of testing is being done.

If dangerous materials are found in any building, options include removing the materials entirely, changing how much of the material is used or changing where it’s used on a building, Solomon said.

Innovative solutions — such as an exterior sprinkler system that can send water raining onto a building’s outer walls — have also been discussed in the United Arab Emirates, where some high-rise buildings have burned in recent years, Solomon said.