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Vegas says fake trees are extreme fire hazards

Tests show fake palm trees can burn 10 times more intensely than an actual tree so Clark County is urging properties to remove or test all artificial foliage.

Fake Palms Fuel Fire

Associated Press

LAS VEGAS — The Cosmopolitan hotel-casino on the Las Vegas Strip says it’s removing all artificial foliage outdoors, as a county investigation reveals that the fake palm trees involved in a July fire can burn 10 times more intensely than an actual tree.

Ron Lynn, director of Clark County’s department of building and fire prevention, said Friday that an independent analysis shows the plastic fronds burned 10 times faster and hotter than an actual southern pine tree without needles. The artificial trunk made of metal, polyurethane foam and fiberglass resin on the tree decoration burned five times more intensely.

The Cosmopolitan, which won’t face any penalties, said it has already removed about half of the fake trees and will be rid of all of them by early next year. They will be replaced with live foliage.

“Clearly, this identified an issue that had not been recognized and they are taking steps,” Lynn said of the hotel-casino.

The test was commissioned by the county with the cost billed to the Cosmopolitan. It was conducted in November using samples of the fake palm trees that caught fire, although it did not account for environmental factors such as wind and humidity.

The results show the tree materials don’t meet flame and smoke resistance standards for indoor uses and wouldn’t be allowed inside buildings or as an exterior component on a building.

But the national building and fire codes adopted by the county don’t apply the same rules to outdoor landscaping and decorative foliage. Lynn said no policy changes are being recommended because it would be difficult to regulate, identify or standardize such adornments, and could cause an undue burden to the businesses. The county also said the current fire and building codes were sufficient enough to keep the fire from spreading beyond the pool’s deck where it started.

Instead, the county is now urging resort properties to remove or test any such decorations on their sites. Lynn said the county has taken a cursory look at other buildings and didn’t immediately identify the same materials being used elsewhere.

The July 25 fire started in a landscaped area by the pool, ripping through the hotel’s 14th floor deck and causing $2 million in damage. The blaze on a sunny Saturday also sent guests running and plumes of black smoke billowing from the scene. One person was treated at the hotel for inhaling smoke and another was taken to the hospital for the same reason.

The fire department responded with about 100 personnel including several chiefs, 13 engines, four trucks and other vehicles, dousing the fire in about 30 minutes.

The fake palm trees and high winds fueled the fire, but officials in August said they couldn’t actually determine what started it. Cigarette butts found on the pool deck couldn’t be proven as the igniter and an electrical problem was ruled out.

The Las Vegas area has prided itself on intense firefighting and stringent building codes since a 1980 fire at the original MGM Grand hotel killed 87 people.

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