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BEFORE IT STARTS How to spot fire risks and plan prevention strategies for historic buildings Sarah Bonnette ARCHITECT ROBERT J. CANGELOSI, JR.’S phone started ringing after a seven-alarm fire on Feb. 20 destroyed the Mont- gomery-Grace mansion at 2525 St. Charles Ave., the circa 1865 Queen Anne-style house where the king of Carnival stops for a toast on Mardi Gras. News reports of the mansion’s construc- tion and the way the fire quickly spread from the basement up three floors had other property owners concerned their historic homes might be vulnerable to such destruction. Cangelosi, who also is an architectural historian, got anoth- er call after news reports on April 15 showed flames shooting from the roof of the 800-year-old Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. That call came from a client with a 150-year-old home in Natchez, Miss., who wanted Cangelosi to investigate possible fire escape routes from a second-floor bedroom. “A lot of people are thinking about this,” he said. Fire does not respect historic buildings. “Wood tends to be dri- er and more brittle quite often in older buildings, so they do tend 16 PRESERVATION IN PRINT • PRCNO.org Fighting Fire BY to be tinderboxes for the most part,” Cangelosi said. Yet prop- erties owners can be proactive. Thinking holistically about po- tential fire risks and prevention strategies — some of which can be done for little to no cost — is the best approach to protecting properties from ruinous blazes. That includes checking electrical systems, being smart about other potential risks, and employing good renovation techniques. Having good detection and sup- pression systems and a fire escape plan also are vital. Electrical hazards The cause of the Montgomery-Grace fire in New Orleans has not been released, but in Paris, police investigators believe Notre Dame’s fire resulted from an electrical short, according to various news reports. Electrical issues are a major source of fires, Cangelosi said. After a four-alarm blaze in 2015, he worked with the Trufant family to restore their 1890s Queen Anne-style house in the Gar- JUNE 2019