Charlottesville Fire Department quells University blaze

Afternoon fire harms indoor practice facility's roof; incident not expected to delay planned opening


It took the Charlottesville Fire Department more than an hour to contain the fire that broke out at the unfinished George Welsh Indoor Practice Facility Monday afternoon. The blaze started when a subcontractor working with a cutting torch under the roof accidentally ignited the roof’s insulation and rubber membrane.

The fire was reported at 12:36 p.m., and all of the Charlottesville fire units responded to the call, University spokesperson McGregor McCance said. “To our knowledge, a subcontractor employee was cutting a hole in the deck for our lightning protection system,” Chief Facilities Officer Donald Sundgren said at a press conference Tuesday. “They had gone up on top and removed the insulation and membrane around the area they were going to cut, but they used a torch and somehow caught the membrane on fire.”

Debris fell to the blue field hockey turf below as the fire department attempted to extinguish the flames using a tower to spray water onto the roof.

“They were able to get a truck adjacent to the building so they could spray directly onto the fire,” McCance said. “About 20 percent of the roof was damaged … At the same time the fire was reported [firefighters] started spraying water onto the adjacent turf field to protect it.”

Sundgren said he believed there were no workers on the roof at the time of the fire, and that there were only one or two workers underneath the roof. The fire did not cause any injuries.

Currently, workers are stripping all the insulation and membrane of the deck to examine the full extent of the damage. The University has hired an independent inspector who will assist the in-house University roofing manager and the construction manager in evaluating the condition of the roof.

“In a report that came out [Monday], the prognosis has been much more positive than it could have been, had it not been for the great response from everyone involved,” Sundgren said.

The surrounding fields have been inspected and no damage was found, but the University will continue to monitor them, Sundgren added.

The $13 million facility was scheduled to be completed early next year, and Sundgren said the fire would not push back the date. The structure was about halfway complete before the incident.

“It will be complete and in use for spring football practice in March of 2013,” Sundgren said.
The portion of the roof that was damaged was relatively small, and the orders for replacement supplies have already been placed, allowing the project to stay on schedule, Sundgren said.

“Other work will be able to carry on inside the facility while the roof is being repaired,” he said. “It is fair to say we have not been set back from a time standpoint. Certainly we will have to put a little extra work in that same amount of time.”

Any costs of the damages will be covered by insurance policies that are held by the contractors, including the project’s construction managers, Barton Malow, and any subcontractors.

“The University has no financial exposure at all,” Sundgren said.

-Operations Manager Greg Lewis and Managing Editor Kaz Komolafe contributed to this story

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