Calgary fire spurs concerns about new six-storey wood building policy

CALGARY- The city of Calgary is changing a construction policy to allow wooden buildings to reach six storeys tall, instead of the current four storeys. The city will start accepting building permit applications for such wood-frame residential buildings on May 1.

The massive fire at Centre St. and 17 Ave. S.W. on Saturday has raised some concerns over the new policy, though the cause of the fire is still under investigation.

But the city says approval for the taller wood-frame buildings will be contingent on a site plan with enhanced fire safety protocols during construction.

“We make sure we cover all the bases; we know what the builder is doing, knowing they have proper plans in place,” said Ross McDougall, chief building inspector on safety plans for buildings over four stories high. “We don’t want to make any assumptions, because by then it’s too late.

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“Part of the job is not just that building, it’s also the adjacent buildings, the walkways, anything that could be affected by construction by the building and during an emergency situation.”

Saturday’s fire started shortly before noon, and 17 minutes later, a massive blaze was seen across the city. Four minutes after that, flames had overrun the building.

WATCH: Fire crews battle massive fire south of downtown

Mayor Naheed Nenshi said the new change needs to be undertaken with safety as top priority in light of the weekend fire.

“The issue over the weekend, with a building under construction…no stand pipes, no sprinklers installed as I understand, so it’s difficult to draw conclusions,” he said.

The new province-wide policy is part of the National Building Code, made with Calgary’s housing crunch in mind.

“The savings is much higher between wood construction and building in concrete, approximately 10-15 per cent cheaper, critical as a component of housing costs as the development community has cited Calgary as one of the most expensive places in Canada to construct from concrete,” said the city in an explanation of the policy on its website.

Calgary will follow a list of best practices gleaned from British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec—where the change has already been adopted. Local developers tell Global News they’re excited about the change and are in talks with the city to obtain necessary permits and approvals.

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