Had it not been for a functional sprinkler system at Carolina Springs Apartments, we might well be mourning another tragic loss of life this week.
A blaze broke out late Wednesday in the bedroom of a second-floor apartment.
Carolina Springs is an independent living facility for retirees, home to 144 senior residents, some with limited mobility. Had the fire gone unchecked, Carrboro fire officials said, it would rapidly have increased in speed and intensity, and it's highly probable that some of the residents would have been unable to escape.
Fortunately, the building is equipped with sprinklers. The smoke triggered a sprinkler head in the apartment bedroom. The system worked the way it's supposed to, and by the time firefighters arrived the blaze was already out.
Fire crews found smoke, a charred bed and some water damage, but no flames.
Most important, they found no residents injured or worse.
Carolina Springs, like many such facilities, has long corridors with interior entrances to residential units. Had the blaze not been quickly extinguished, said Carrboro Deputy Fire Chief Trey Mayo, those corridors would have filled with dense, deadly smoke.
"There's no doubt in my mind that the sprinkler saved lives," Mayo said.
This community has suffered its share of fiery tragedies. No one who was here at the time will ever forget the terrible Sunday morning in May 1996 when five UNC students died in a fraternity house blaze. The building had no sprinklers.
Less than a year ago an incredibly fast-moving blaze at Heritage Hills Apartments killed one person and injured two. No sprinklers.
Fire officials are unanimous and passionate in their unqualified support for sprinklers. Virtually all will tell you that there is no better protection against fire than a good sprinkler system.
The state requires sprinklers in most new buildings with a capacity of 300 people or more. Individual municipalities can impose more stringent requirements. After the 1996 campus blaze, the Chapel Hill Town Council voted to mandate sprinklers in all fraternity and sorority houses.
Carrboro has the strictest sprinkler code in the state, Mayo said. New buildings of more than 6,000 square feet must have sprinklers. Single-family homes are exempt, but he said the town encourages sprinklers in those, too, and has some success in that effort.
Resistance comes, when it comes, because of course it costs some money to install sprinklers in a new building, and about twice as much to retrofit an existing one.
The benefit, however, vastly outweighs the cost -- as the residents of Carolina Springs can attest.
All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be published, broadcast or redistributed in any manner.