Outdated fire codes pose risks in Rexburg

POSTED: 05:18 PM MDT May 13, 2013    UPDATED: 06:47 PM MDT May 13, 2013 
REXBURG, Idaho -

An electrical fire that forced several BYU-Idaho students out of their apartment over the weekend is shedding light on an issue that impacts hundreds, if not thousands more members of the university community when it comes to just how fire-safe their apartment buildings actually are.

Things are as back to normal as they can be at the Mountain Pines Apartments in Rexburg, considering the scattered ash and charred hole in the middle of units 211 and 311.

Investigators blame the old, faulty wiring in the almost 30-year-old building for the fire that caused a water heater to plummet from the third floor. Still, the building is up to code for the time it was built.

"When this building was built, in about 1984, '85, this arrangement of having a water heater in this closet met code for the time. Therefore, it still does," said Rexburg-Madison Fire Inspector Dale Pickering.

Pickering said fire codes have come a long way since the '80s.

"Our current code requires a space like this to be sprinkled, as is the whole building," Pickering explained.

Sprinklers weren't required when Mountain Pines was built. Therefore, the building has none.

Current codes also require smoke detectors that alert all residents in the event of a fire. That was not the case back then.

"This building has smoke alarms, which did work," Pickering said. They are called single-station fire alarms ... and they only notify the occupants within the dwelling unit itself."

The only thing requiring landlords to update things like sprinklers and smoke alarms is a big renovation.

"Otherwise, the building will sit there forever in its present condition," Pickering said.

Living in an older apartment can still be safe, Pickering said.

"As long as the smoke detectors batteries are being changed out regularly, the fire extinguishers are being changed out, the occupants are being informed as to how to get away from the building," he said.

Mountain Pines manager and resident Melanie Birch said she's confident the building's owner will keep a more watchful eye on possible fire hazards in the future.

No one was hurt in the fire.  The building is left with an estimated $75,000 in damage.