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 Lessons not learned

Massachusetts belatedly confronts construction fire dangers

By  and , Globe Staff August 12, 2017

 THE NIGHT SKY GLOWED in East Longmeadow as firefighters raced toward a sprawling retirement complex being built on acres of farmland. They arrived minutes after the first call to find a raging inferno like nothing they had ever encountered.

Manufactured composite wood used in the construction of the unoccupied, 130-unit Bluebird Estates burned like kindling. Wind carried embers a half-mile away, forcing the evacuation of a hundred nearby homes.

“It was just a wall of fire,” recounted Paul Morrissette, now the town’s fire chief, who was a captain on the first truck to arrive at the scene in 2007.

The massive blaze was a wake-up call for fire departments and state officials to the serious potential hazards of these increasingly common engineered wood products, especially during construction, before sheetrock, sprinklers, and fire alarms are installed and operating. East Longmeadow immediately stepped up efforts to reduce the risk of fires at all construction sites, Morrissette said.