Holmen apartment fire

Firefighters battle a fire in an apartment building at 615 McHugh Road in Holmen.

Erik Daily, La Crosse Tribune

Holmen, Onalaska and Holland need to update their building codes to better protect residents against deadly fires, two fire chiefs have warned.

La Crosse Fire Department Chief Ken Gilliam and Holmen fire chief Paul Menches both said it was important the codes were updated at a Feb. 21 meeting of the Holmen Area Fire District Association Board.

A subcommittee has been formed with representatives from each of the municipalities to discuss coordinating their building codes to have structures built to be more fire resistant.

“Modern lightweight building construction is stacking the deck against us,” said Gilliam. “We’re (the national fire service) seeing significant structure fires with roofs collapsing in 10 to 15 minutes.”

Using the recent McHugh Drive Apartment fire as an example of “light-weight” construction, Menches said a better job can be done on new construction. The apartment building was completely destroyed in the January fire.

“Things are burning hotter and quicker,” said Menches “That fire got a big, big start and went up vertically. The garages were only sheet rocked on the wall between the garage and the residence. Garages need to be sheet rocked, especially if they are attached.”

Menches told the board the district’s building codes should be standardized and upgraded to require better fire protection at the local level.

The towns of Holland and Onalaska and the village of Holmen have two representatives each sitting on the fire board.

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Coulee Courier and Houston County News editor

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