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Down Manor sprinklers stop potentially ‘disastrous’ fire

A fire at a Hood River retirement home burned the deck of one of the units early Sunday morning, but Hood River Fire and EMS Chief Devon Wells said the fire could have easily been much worse.

Firefighters received an alarm notification as well as a 911 call at around 3:45 a.m. Sunday of fire on a deck of one of the units at Providence Down Manor, an independent retirement living facility located at 1950 Sterling Place in Hood River.

Wells said firefighters arrived a few minutes later to find a few lingering flames and embers on one of the unit’s decks, as well as a scorched exterior wall. The complex’s sprinkler system had triggered and contained the fire, while firefighters mopped up the rest.

Wells said the fire is believed to have been caused by a cigarette butt that had been extinguished in a flower pot and ignited some bark dust. Without the sprinkler system, Wells said the fire could have easily spread to other units.

“It definitely was a sprinkler save,” he said of the fire. “I try to make a big deal about sprinklers, because sprinklers save lives. It’s like having a firefighter in your building 24/7.

“The potential spread for the fire, it would have burned through the decks, multiple decks,” he continued. “It would have been a disastrous fire.”

Wells said multi-family dwellings like Down Manor are required to have sprinklers, but he advocates for their use in single-family homes as well.

“I’d like to see everybody have sprinklers,” he said. “I have sprinklers in my house and they help me sleep better at night.”

Well said homeowners often don’t like the concept of sprinklers due to the added expense or over fears that the sprinkler systems will trigger all over the house, causing extensive water damage. He said sprinklers get a “bad rap,” and referred to scenes in movies where, for example, holding a cigarette lighter to a sprinkler head causes the whole system to blow, dousing the building with water.

For residential sprinkler units, Wells said that’s not the case and that the heat trigger of one sprinkler head won’t trigger the rest. He also said sprinklers only cost about $100 per head for a new home, with about 10-15 heads needed per home. In his career, Wells said he’s “never gone to a sprinkler activation in a house where it has just popped” for no reason.

Other homeowners worry about water damage, but Wells said the cost of replacing carpet and floorboards is trivial compared to what is irreplaceable.

“There’s nothing more expensive than losing a house, losing a kid or a family member because of a fire,” he said.

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