News 3 investigates different apartment complexes that have different code requirements

Posted at 5:40 PM, May 20, 2021

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - Families are trying to figure out where they are going to live after being displaced by a fire at the Legends at the Beach apartment complex in Virginia Beach early Thursday morning, and investigators are working to figure out the fire happened.

It took the Virginia Beach Fire Department less than six minutes to arrive on scene to the multi-family unit structure fire.

The fire happened in the 3100 block of Hunters Chase Drive.

“It’s just typical of the construction of these buildings. Back in the day, that’s how they built them; they have inherent fire problems that we just have to deal with,” said William Skelaney, Virginia Beach Fire Department Acting District Chief.

They said it started on the third-floor balcony and spread to the rest of the complex. They found heavy flames and smoke coming from the roof.

Fire officials said the building did not have firewalls or fire-stops, which are made with fire retardant materials that can slow down the spread of a fire.

Most apartments are now required to have them, but city codes depend on what year the building was constructed.

The codes upgrade every few years, but if you own a building, you are required to adhere to the codes from the year the building was built.

Older buildings don't have the same regulations as new buildings.

“It really depends on code at the time that the building was constructed and the desires of the builder,” said Amy Valdez, the Virginia Beach District Chief Fire Department. “You can always build above code, but you absolutely have to build minimally to the code.”

City records show this complex was built around 1988.

News 3 was at the complex when a fire broke out six years ago. Residents told us they could see the flames for miles. There were 16 units damaged by that fire and no injuries.

“The fire extended it up into the attic and burned horizontally across the attic,” said Valdez.

She said the two fires were very similar. Six years ago, she said the fire started due to a cigarette.

Related: Improperly putting out cigarettes, smoking materials cost the City of Virginia Beach $4 million in 2020

“This kind of fire spread is common and not just in the City of Virginia Beach - it’s across the country. If you have a common attic and you have vinyl siding, once it ignites, it’s a challenge,” said Valdez. “Firefighters are fighting a battle against time as soon as the first source of ignition.”

The issue of building codes and compliance is extremely complicated.

Our team of investigators is working to get you answers about firewalls in your complex and more on requirements.