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Experts Weigh In On Why Edgewater Apartment Complex Fire Spread So Fast

EDGEWATER, N.J. (CBSNewYork) -- The fire that destroyed the Avalon at Edgewater apartment complex in Edgewater, New Jersey has been ruled an accident – but why did it spread with such a devastating affect?

As CBS2's Tony Aiello reported, some experts said it might have had to do with how the complex was constructed, and the sprinklers inside.

Ten miles south of the fire scene in the Avalon Cove complex in Jersey, David Fagin watched the Wednesday night fire with concern.

"If you see our complex similarly constructed and titled Avalon as well, you kind of want to do a double check and make sure your smoke alarms work; there's no idiot barbecuing in the middle of winter," Fagin said.

New Jersey has a construction code enforced in every municipality, and the Avalon at Edgewater was built to code using so-called lightweight wood construction.

There were sprinklers in the hallways and apartments, but not in attics or what are known as concealed spaces.

CBS2 showed video of the progression of the Wednesday night blaze to fire protection engineer Robert Malanga. He was concerned that the fire spread beyond the unit where it seemed to be contained early on at 6:05 p.m., growing rapidly just 10 minutes later.

"The change in conditions was radical," Malanga said. "There very well may have been a failure of a sprinkler system, or again, a fire burning in an unoccupied area."

Unlike concrete or cinder block construction, which contain a fire to the unit where it starts, lightweight wood construction can allow a fire to spread.

"It was in the floors, and it just traveled," explained Edgewater fire Chief Thomas Jacobson.

Back in 2000, fire also consumed the Avalon at Edgewater complex when it was under construction. And in 2012, another fire heavily damaged the Avalon Garden City complex in East Garden City, Long Island.

With thousands of local residents living in big complexes built using lightweight wood construction, techniques, many wonder how worried they should be.

"If the building is properly fire protected -- proper alarms, proper sprinkler systems -- they're going to be safe," Malanga said.

A spokesman for Avalon said lightweight wood is a common and safe construction method, and pointed out that the purpose of a fire code is not to save the building, but to give occupants time to exit safely.

Edgewater police Chief William Skidmore said late Thursday afternoon that plumbers using a torch accidentally started the blaze.


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