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5 Things to Know: Fire Code Violations Found at SouthPark Site

...and four more stories from June 4-10, 2023

A group of firefighters look down an alley during the SouthPark Fire, on the left side of which is a large building on fire.
The Charlotte Fire Department cited two fire code violations found during an investigation of this deadly fire in SouthPark in May. (Photo courtesy of Charlotte FD)

Fire Code Violations Found at Site of SouthPark Fire

The Charlotte Fire Department on Wednesday released a statement regarding its investigation into the fire that broke out at a construction site on Liberty Row Drive in SouthPark in May, resulting in the death of two workers. Though the exact cause of the fire is still unknown, CFD did cite multiple code violations that created unsafe conditions for workers and hampered the department’s efforts in fighting the fire.

Investigators found that the fire, which occurred on May 18, began in a trailer on the first floor of the large apartment building that was being built on the site. Wednesday’s release stated that, though the specific ignition source is unknown, “investigators determined multiple accidental heat sources were in the trailer.”

CFD cited two code violations that were revealed by the investigation, the first being the lack of an active standpipe in the building.

According to the release, “a standpipe or riser is a type of rigid water piping built into multi-story buildings in a vertical position or into bridges in a horizontal position, to which fire hoses can be connected, allowing manual water application to the fire.”

CFD stated that no standpipe was installed, nor can the department find any documentation that any standpipes were ever installed anywhere in the building, despite North Carolina Fire Code mandating that one must be installed prior to the start of any construction set to exceed 40 feet.

At the time of the fire, the building was at six stories, four of which were made up of wood frame construction, according to the release.

The reason for this oversight may have been related to the second violation: the lack of a pre-fire plan. According to CFD, a contractor is required by Mecklenburg County to contact the Charlotte Fire Marshall before beginning on a construction project that will exceed, then contact again to inform the fire marshal’s office of their progress once the project has reached 40 feet.

North Carolina Fire Code states that the owner “must develop and maintain an approved pre-fire plan in cooperation with the fire chief.” CFD’s investigation found that the Charlotte Fire Marshall had not received any communication from the contractor/builder at any time before the fire, and therefore no fire inspection had been performed at the site.

Demonte Sherrill and Ruben Holmes, both workers at the site, were killed in the fire, their remains found by CFD on May 19.

Mill Creek Residential, billed as “a leading developer and operator specializing in premier rental communities across the U.S.,” was partnering with Hawthorne Residential Partners on the 239-unit development.

Concerned Citizen Group Raises Flag on City’s Energy Plan

A group of concerned citizens calling itself the SEAP Accountability Committee, part of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Climate Leaders environmental coalition, published a report on Wednesday that called on city leaders to act with more urgency in implementing its Strategic Energy Action Plan, warning that the city is currently not on pace to reach its environmental sustainability goals.

The committee emphasized that it fully endorses the plan, adopted by Charlotte City Council in December 2018, as well as the city’s sustainability goals adopted earlier that year for both carbon-free municipal operations by 2030 and “low-carbon city” status by 2050.

“However, we are increasingly concerned that the City’s sustainability goals will not be achieved. And, further, that that failure will be by a wide margin,” reads the release, published in response to the city’s annual SEAP report, presented to city council on April 24. “We feel that more direct attention by both the City Manager and the Mayor, more resources (financial and human), and more urgency are required for nominal goal attainment.”

The report goes on to make specific suggestions, such as replacing gas-powered city vehicles with an electric fleet with an urgency inspired by the realities of climate change rather than the current “obsolescence model,” which waits until a vehicle has reached the end of its useful life.

The six-page report closes with the following conclusion: “We represent a community of citizens who are concerned about progress toward sustainability and envision the City moving forward, faster. We stand ready to meet with the City Manager and Mayor about our perspectives and suggestions. We are also interested to assist — within our limited range of capabilities — the City attain its noble goals of de-carbonization, improved environmental equity, and better healthy opportunities for every resident and business which calls Charlotte its home.”

SCOTUS Makes Major Ruling with NC Implications

The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday issued a historic ruling in the voting rights case of Allen v. Milligan from Alabama, upholding prohibitions against racial discrimination in drawing voting districts. The ruling also affirms crucial protections in the federal Voting Rights Act.

As pointed out in a release from Common Cause NC, the ruling has profound importance for North Carolina, where the legislature, led by a Republican supermajority, is preparing to draw new voting maps this year that pro-democracy advocates fear could once again be discriminatory gerrymanders, as was the case in 2019. State lawmakers are also considering bills imposing restrictions on voting access that would disproportionately harm people of color.

“Today’s ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court is a victory for American democracy and voters everywhere. This decision should serve as a clear warning to North Carolina politicians that racist gerrymandering and attacks on voting rights will not stand,” wrote Common Cause NC executive director Bob Phillips in the release. “North Carolina politicians should take note of today’s ruling and reject attempts to undermine voting rights. We must protect everyone’s freedom to vote.”

Sports Betting Bill Passed in Raleigh

A bill legalizing sports betting in North Carolina has officially passed the state’s General Assembly with a 68-45 vote on Wednesday in which the House voted to concur with the Senate’s changes to House Bill 347. The bill was sent Friday to the desk of Gov. Roy Cooper, who is expected to sign it.

The bill will allow the North Carolina Education Lottery to license up to 12 online operators — for a $1 million five-year license — plus the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and the Catawba Indian Nation, who would not count toward the 12.

If signed (or allowed to lapse) into law, it will take effect on Jan. 1, 2024.

Man Killed During Robbery in Northeast Charlotte

Shortly after 7:30 p.m. on Monday, police responded to the MAA Legacy Park apartment complex off Mallard Creek Road in University City, where they found 31-year-old Britton Owens dead from gunshot wounds. Two days later, police arrested a 24-year-old suspect, charging him with murder, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, robbery with a dangerous weapon and conspiracy to commit robbery with a dangerous weapon.

Britton is Charlotte’s 34th victim of a homicide this year, compared to 45 killings that had occurred at this point in 2022.

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