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Fire sprinklers required in more homes and businesses 

New buildings of more than 1,000 square feet will now be required to install fire sprinklers if they're built in the unincorporated parts of SLO County.

County supervisors on Dec. 4 adopted a new fire code that mandates the sprinklers, and also requires house address numbers to be 6 inches high for greater visibility at night.

Eighty percent of fire deaths nationwide occur in homes, Fire Marshal Rick Swan told supervisors. In the last three years, eight people have died in fires in SLO County, three of whom could have survived if their homes had fire sprinklers, he said.

Fire sprinklers activate within two minutes, keeping fires small and preventing "flashover," when the temperature is high enough so everything in the room reaches the point of ignition. The chances of surviving a flashover are minimal, the fire marshal said.

"The fact is, sprinklers save lives," Swan said. They also save water, typically using around 400 gallons compared to 12,000 gallons used by firefighters with hoses.

The "myth" that if one sprinkler goes off, they all go off is due to "overactive Hollywood imagination," he told super-visors.

Home Builders Association spokesman Jerry Bunin complained about the increased cost of providing sprinklers in new construction, estimated at $1.25 to $2 per square foot. He called for sprinkler installation to be voluntary, and suggested that banning smoking would be a more effective and cheaper way to prevent fires and save lives.

Supervisor Jerry Lenthall said he has seen two people burn, including "an elderly gentleman" in flames, who ran out of a blazing house.

"The dollar costs take a back seat," Lenthall said.

San Luis Obispo and Atascadero already require fire sprinklers, and other local cities--including Paso Robles, Pismo Beach, and Arroyo Grande--are in the process of adopting similar ordinances, Swan said.

The new county rules also require fire access roads to be 20 feet wide, rather than the formerly required 18 feet.

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