Author(s): Angelo Verzoni. Published on August 15, 2023.


Facing the Risk

North Carolina considers NFPA 241 to help it protect buildings under construction



Following an immense and deadly blaze at a building under construction in May, fire safety officials in North Carolina are considering incorporating requirements from the latest edition of NFPA 241, Standard for Safeguarding Construction, Alteration, and Demolition Operations, into the state’s fire code.

“We do hope that the latest updates [to NFPA 241] will be considered,” Chief State Fire Marshal Brian Taylor told The Charlotte Observer. Currently, NFPA 241 is briefly referenced in the 2018 North Carolina Fire Prevention Code, which is the latest version of the code, but experts say a fuller incorporation of the 2022 edition of NFPA 241 could help reduce the risk of more fires like the one that razed a multistory apartment complex under construction in Charlotte on May 18. The fire left two construction workers dead, while more than a dozen others had to be rescued.

The violent blaze was part of a spate of fires around the country that occurred at buildings under construction. The same day as the Charlotte fire, two residential buildings under construction were destroyed by fire in Portland, Oregon. On June 11, a large commercial building under construction in San Gabriel, California, was destroyed by a fire, and on June 20 a massive fire leveled an apartment building under construction in south Las Vegas, Nevada. Media coverage of the Las Vegas incident described other area fires involving buildings under construction as “some of the biggest blazes in Las Vegas over the past 20 years.”

As a result of these fires and many others, more and more jurisdictions are looking to NFPA 241 to help them manage a problem that has reached epidemic proportions nationwide. Among the changes to the 2022 edition of the standard wasa new section to help authorities having jurisdiction (AHJs) with enforcement of the standard; enhanced requirements for creating a fire prevention program (FPP) for construction sites; and a new chapter on large wood-frame construction, among other changes. The structure that burned in Charlotte was reported to be of large wood-frame construction. “I’m really proud of the latest edition of the standard,” Bruce Campbell, a fire protection engineer and vice president at Jensen Hughes who serves as the chair of the NFPA 241 technical committee, told NFPA Journalfora 2021 articlethat explored the changes to the latest edition of the standard.

Although the next edition of the North Carolina fire code isn’t set to take effect until January 2025, North Carolina Chief Fire Code Consultant Charlie Johnson told The Observer that changes could be introduced sooner. The NC Fire Code Revision Committee was scheduled to meet in June, the newspaper reported.

North Carolina is far from the only place in the United States—and around the globe—where firefighters, building officials, construction workers, and other professionals face fire safety challenges at construction sites. According to the most recent data from NFPA, the number of fires in buildings under construction in the United States has been rising since 2014. On average, U.S. fire departments respond to 4,300 fires in buildings under construction each year, or nearly a dozen such blazes every day. These fires also inflict an annual average of $375 million in direct property damages, according to the data.

Some policymakers and fire service professionals have speculated that the rising numbers of construction fires over the past several years could be due to a boom in wood-frame construction for large, multifamily dwellings. “We’re on heightened awareness of these, and especially when they’re in the most populated areas,” Taylor told The Observer about this type of construction. “You’ll see them in downtown Raleigh, downtown Charlotte.”

But there have also been many examples of non-wood-frame buildings under construction burning, and experts say building materials alone don’t change the risk of a fire starting. 

“Construction is a vulnerable point in any building’s life cycle,” Jon Hart, a technical lead at NFPA, said in a recent NFPA Journal article. “There can be a lot going on, such as welding and other hot work activities or the use of cooking equipment by workers. In addition to that, you can have piles of combustible debris and fire protection systems that aren’t fully operable yet. All of this creates an environment where fires can start, so it’s critical for building owners, construction companies, and authorities having jurisdiction to ensure proper safety plans and procedures are in place for any project.”

To establish fire, life, and electrical safety in buildings and other spaces—no matter what stage of development they may be in—it’s critical for jurisdictions to use the most up-to-date codes and standards. That concept is one of eight components outlined in the NFPA Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem, which is why Lorraine Carli, vice president for Outreach & Advocacy at NFPA, applauded the efforts taking shape in North Carolina to incorporate the 2022 edition of NFPA 241 into the state fire code.

“The recent fire in Charlotte was an absolute tragedy, but we hope it can lead to changes that could help prevent future tragedies like this from occurring in North Carolina and in other places,” Carli said. “Safety exists as a system, where everything from the use of modern codes to employing skilled workers matters. So it’s not just about saying, ‘Let’s use NFPA 241.’ It’s about training on it, implementing it, and ensuring there is proper enforcement.”

Visit to explore a variety of NFPA resources aimed at helping to prevent construction fires. For NFPA online training courses related to fires in buildings under construction, visit

ANGELO VERZONI is manager of Content Marketing at NFPA. Top photograph: Getty Images