Fire at Avalon Bay Maplewood apartments renews arguments against lightweight construction

A large fire at an Essex County apartment complex has reignited controversy over construction materials used by the developer.

The mayor of Maplewood says that Avalon Bay followed all the right protocols and met all the safety standards when building the Avalon Bay Maplewood complex. The developer even added additional safety measures, the mayor says.

But because Avalon Bay is the same developer that built the Avalon Bay Edgewater property that burned down in 2015, many have renewed the argument against lightweight wood construction.

John Jay College fire science professor Glen Corbett says that the state of New Jersey needs to take the step toward safer construction development. Corbett says that fire codes are outdated and that lawmakers should enforce high standards to make it harder for fires to move as quickly through buildings and be as destructive.

"Lightweight wood frame construction is so prevalent because it's quick and easy and relatively cheap to put up," Corbett says. "The problem for us is the fact that there are so many voids and hidden spaces in the walls and the attic that it makes it incredibly difficult to chase these fires down."

He says that regulations should limit the lightweight wood frame construction to three stories, not the current limit, which is about six stories.

The fire at the Avalon Bay Maplewood sparked early Saturday morning. The complex was vacant because it was still under construction. No one was hurt.

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