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U.S. Watchdog Warns of Fire Risk in Afghan Army Buildings

A federal watchdog has urged the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to stop building structures for the Afghan Army that “pose a serious fire and safety risk.”

John Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, faulted the Army Corps in an April 4 letter for using foam insulation and thermal-barrier systems that don’t comply with international building standards.

“We are alerting you to our concern over this serious fire and life safety risk,” Sopko wrote.

He urged the Corps to reconsider its decision to proceed with construction while posting warning signs and having a “fire-watch during rest hours.”

Three of the so-called K-Span structures caught fire during construction last year, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars in property damage, Sopko said.

In southern Afghanistan, 704 of the 1,002 K-Span structures under construction use non-compliant foam insulation and barrier systems, he said.

The Army Corps, in a March 10 “decision paper,” acknowledged the fire risk while citing concerns about delays and additional cost if the non-compliant materials had to be removed.

The Army Corps didn’t immediately respond to an e-mailed request for comment. The K-Span structures, which are designed to be rust- and weather-resistant, replaced concrete and masonry structures for the Afghan Army beginning in 2010, according to Sopko’s letter.

Sopko said he is opening an investigation of the matter.

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