Electrical fires raise concerns in Alabama State House

A fire that forced evacuation of the Alabama State House last week has drawn new attention to problems with the building that serves as home for the Alabama Legislature.

An exhaust fan in a third-floor bathroom caught fire on Friday, causing heavy smoke and forcing the evacuation of the eight-story building.

One week earlier, Alabama Senate Secretary Pat Harris said an electrical outlet caught fire in his office on the seventh floor. It was put out with a fire extinguisher.

Harris said both fires could have grown worse had they happened on a weekend or evening when the building was not occupied.

Harris said he plans to meet Wednesday with the company that manages the fire alarm system in the State House. One concern, Harris said, is that the alarm did not go off on the seventh floor on Friday. Another concern is that a fire could trigger the building’s sprinkler system and damage computers and other equipment.

Othni Lathram, director of the Legislative Services Agency, said a report on the condition of the State House and its systems, including the electrical system, is due by September 30. The report on the building’s condition is not specifically related to the fires but was part of an annual maintenance agreement with the state Finance Department.

The State House was completed in 1963 to serve as headquarters for what was then known as the State Highway Department, which is now called the Alabama Department of Transportation.

The Legislature moved into the building in the 1980s for what was expected to a temporary stay to allow renovations of the Capitol. But the Legislature never went back to the Capitol.

About 250 people work in the State House year-round, Lathram said. That includes employees of the Senate, House of Representatives, Legislative Services Agency, Executive Budget Office, and Secretary of State. The COVID-19 pandemic has reduced the number of people in the building on a regular basis.

Lathram said the building is a concrete structure that was retrofitted with air conditioning and has had problems with moisture.

Alabama House Clerk Jeff Woodard said he did not know about many recent problems with the electrical system in the House offices, which are on the fifth floor, although he said a couple of outlets have burned in the past.

Woodard said mold has been an issue in the State House for some time. He said that includes mold on multiple walls and mold discovered behind wall coverings during renovations.

The House this year adopted a resolution to set up a nine-person committee to study the environmental conditions and physical plant systems of State House and make recommendations to the Legislature.

The resolution said the State House has many problems, “including air quality, plumbing leaks, electrical power surges, flooding, inconsistent heating and air conditioning, accessibility, and lack of space for public access to committee meetings and other legislative business.”

The Senate did not pass the resolution.

The condition of the State House came up earlier this year when

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Coronavirus: House party concerns amid rise in cases

Party shut down in LeedsImage copyright
West Yorkshire Police

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Police and the council issued seven fines to organisers of illegal raves last weekend

Young people in Leeds are being urged to take responsibility for controlling the spread of coronavirus following an increase in house parties in the city.

Leeds was added to the Public Health England areas of concern as Covid rates rose to 32.5 cases per 100,000 people.

Council leader Judith Blake said there had been an increase in music events, house parties and illegal raves adding fines of £10,000 were being given.

She urged caution at a time when university students were set to return.

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The city council said infections were broadly spread across its local communities, suggesting they were linked to social and leisure activities rather than single sites – with increasing numbers among people aged between 18 and 34.

Ms Blake said it was premature to talk about a lockdown at this stage but the city was approaching a tipping point and restrictions would be considered.

“Unfortunately we have seen a rise in house parties, but we are working with police,” Ms Blake said.

“Last weekend we issued, with the police, seven of the £10,000 fines for organisers of illegal raves.”

‘Bit of complacency’

The fines are part of newly-introduced legislation aimed at deterring illegal music events.

Elsewhere in West Yorkshire, Bradford, Kirklees and Calderdale feature on Public Health England’s watchlist of areas that have seen infection rates increase.

Police issued a photograph of one event was shut down last weekend in Kitson Road, Leeds, following reports that it was in breach of coronavirus restrictions.

“We feel there is a bit of complacency coming in,” Ms Blake said.

“This virus isn’t going to be contained just among younger people.

“The fact is that the social distancing measures have been working, but if we relax and it starts to spread back into the older more vulnerable communities we are going to see increased hospitalisation and all the things we saw at the beginning of the virus.”

She said the council had been working with the universities ahead of the return of students later this month.

“We want to really get across that the virus is still with us,” Ms Blake said.

The West Yorkshire city has been named alongside South Tyneside, Corby, Middlesbrough and Kettering as an area for concern.

Wakefield, Neward and Sherwood, and Slough were all removed after case numbers fell.

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