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Feds reject building code changes

A federal commission has rejected proposals to change Canada's national construction codes to better protect communities from destructive wildfires.

The changes would have required builders in areas prone to forest fires to use less flammable building materials, to space buildings farther apart and to keep them clear of trees and vegetation.

"There was no consensus to go forward and put this in the codes. The majority of the provinces said, 'No, you can't put this in the building codes because we couldn't enforce it,'" Philip Rizcallah, acting manager of the Canadian Commission on Building and Fire Codes, said from Ottawa.

"They felt it would be very difficult to go in there and mandate or dictate the type of siding somebody put on their house or the type of tree or shrub that they planted next to their house. They said it would be an absolute nightmare."

The proposal for changes came from the National Fire Protection Association and an Alberta-based non-profit group called Partners in Protection.

The proposals were submitted to the commission before wildfires in May 2011 destroyed hundreds of homes in Slave Lake, Alta., and forced thousands of people to flee. The disaster cost more than $1 billion in damage, firefighting and relief costs.

The commission's members, appointed by the National Research Council, update national building codes every five years. The next round of changes are to go into effect in 2015. The deadline for submissions was Nov. 16.

Rizcallah said the proposed changes fell outside the commission's mandate. He said national codes are meant to prevent a fire on one person's property from damaging another person's property, not to protect property from wildfires.

Some provinces, such as Alberta, Ontario and British Columbia, don't allow municipalities to make and enforce their own building regulations, he said. They base their building rules on the national codes.

The end result is a Catch-22 in which municipalities in wildfire-prone areas in some provinces can't bring in tougher rules for builders.

The Canadian Press


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