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The U.S. Army in South Korea plans to inspect the fire safety of all its boiler rooms on the peninsula in hopes of heading off a blaze like the one that gutted a Camp Henry office building on Dec. 22, officials said Thursday.

The fire destroyed Building 1510, a one-story structure that housed the offices of the Area IV Support Activity’s public works department, and did an estimated $2.8 million in damage.

It started in the building’s mechanical room, also known as a boiler room, which housed a furnace, officials said Thursday.

They believe a piece of wood had touched or come close to the furnace’s chimney stack, turned gradually to charcoal and ignited, said Leo Dumond, Fire and Emergency Services chief with the Installation Management Agency - Korea Region Office in Seoul.

The fire then climbed into the building’s attic and spread quickly through the rest of the structure.

“In 1510 … there was access straight into the attic from that mechanical room area,” Dumond said. “So the fire, once it got started above the mechanical room … just went straight into the attic. And you’re looking at, I believe it was 80-year-old wood, and it just started to go.”

Safety inspections already have begun at some installations, Dumond said. Officials hope to finish the project by mid-February.

The Army has “at least” 2,000 boiler rooms on the peninsula, Dumond said, but only some are in older buildings made at least partly of wood. No precise figures were immediately available Thursday on the exact number of boiler rooms or how many might be of the older type, Dumond said.

Inspectors will check whether the boiler rooms are “one-hour fire-rated,” meaning that they’re in condition to contain a fire for up to an hour.

“For a room to be fire- rated, it can’t have … holes in the walls or in the ceiling,” Dumond said. “In other words, if I have a fire in that room, the fire will stay in that room for an hour before breaking out.”

Boiler rooms in the Army’s newer, concrete structures likely are sound, Dumond said. “We’re looking at the older facilities that are made out of wood. … We’re checking where the smokestack goes up through the ceiling, whether it’s touching anything, whether it has the correct distance between wood and metal; we’re checking for holes.”

Inspectors also will check the condition of the switches that automatically shut down a furnace that gets above a certain temperature.

Since the Dec. 22 blaze, the public works department has opened interim offices in Camp Henry’s Building 1369.

“They moved, they’ve set up offices and they’re functioning,” said Galen Putnam, a spokesman for the Area IV Support Activity at Camp Henry.


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