Gallery Furniture Fire and High-Piled Combustible Storage

May 25, 2009

Ok, so this is NOT a post about Architectural Barriers.  Someday I will have another blog devoted to other building code issues, but until then, this will have to do.

If you aren’t from Houston, you might not be aware of the notoriety of Gallery Furniture and its exuberant owner Jim McIngvale (aka, Mattress Mack).  The famous furniture store with humble beginnings was struck by a major setback last Friday when the main warehouse behind the showroom was completely consumed in a fire.  The cause is still being investigated although it there are indications it could have been a generator.

  1. How does a modern warehouse building, equipped with sprinklers, fire alarms, cctv cameras, fire extinguishers and other fire safety devices become completely consumed in a fire?
  2. Shouldn’t these measures prevent fires?
  3. In the case of this fire, did the building code fail?

Some answers:

  1. Buildings are complicated, fires are more complicated.  The investigators will issue a report that will likely influence future building code publications.
  2. No, the code requirements will slow down fires.  Buildings codes primarily protect people, buildings are secondary.
  3. No, since the only thing that was lost was a warehouse full of furniture and the fire did not spread to adjacent structures.

This warehouse was considered “high-piled combustible storage” .  Without going into detail, this means that the materials are stacked high and will burn, simple enough.  When a warehouse is classified as “high-pile” special fire safety requirements may apply.  The City of Houston references the Fire Code ( for “high-piled” requirements.  These include sprinklers, smoke vents, fire-personnel access doors, maximum volume of materials.  The purpose of these special regulations is to allow the occupants time to escape and to give the fire department the time and tools they need to contain the fire.

I hope that McIngvale will see a quick recovery and that his new warehouse will be built as good as his old one.

If you want more information about high-piled combustible storage, please email me at