KILL DEVIL HILLS, N.C. (WAVY) — A deadly fire on the Outer Banks tore apart two families who were renting there in August. Three people were killed in the fire that happened in the middle of the night.

A cause has yet to be determined, but fire officials have determined there were working smoke detectors at that time. They say they interviewed some of the survivors and they heard the smoke detectors go off.

That home on the Beach Road was nearly 80 years old. Even though construction codes in recent years are much more fire-conscious, you’ll want to ask some important questions to reduce the risk when you rent.

SAGA construction has about 40 projects going on right now on the Outer Banks. Project manager John Dunstan was not surprised to see the August fire burn so quickly.

“The older homes built in that era were primarily all wood — wood paneling inside, wood flooring,” Dunstan said.

Now, anything built in the last 20 years or so will have several key protections.

“Floor blocking, wall blocking in the framing process that prevents air from moving from space to space, the drywall and taping and mudding of shafts, enclosed spaces,” Dunstan said.

Larger projects will also have another layer of protection against loss of life – sprinklers.

“We have chosen to install it in our larger homes over 6,000 square feet,” said Kim James, SAGA’s director of construction.

And then there are the more common properties, including a four bedroom on East Helga Street, managed by Outer Banks Blue realty.

Company owner Tim Cafferty took us on a tour. “This whole gathering spot we actually have two smoke detectors, and each bedroom up here has its own,” he said.

Outer Banks Blue has 300 properties on the Outer Banks and more than 100 in Sandbridge.

“I feel like I’m responsible for the safety of our guests, and we may have as many as 3,000 guests in our houses over any given week,” Cafferty said.

That means fire extinguishers and smoke detectors that are both battery and hard-wired — so if one goes off, they all go off. Cafferty said state code requires rental managers to change smoke detector batteries at least twice a year. But his company does it much more often — every time there’s a new renter.

“Some (smoke detector batteries) get changed more than 30 times. Some of these houses rent 30 or more weeks.”

So here are the pro-tips from Cafferty, James and Dunstan for checking out a property before you check in:

  • Are the smoke detectors hard-wired in the home? That way, you have both the hard wire and the backup of the battery
  • How often are the batteries changed in the smoke detectors?
  • What are the exit points in the house, and how many?

Also, Cafferty cautioned to beware of bedrooms that are not really bedrooms.

“For it to be called a bedroom, you have to have two ways of ingress and egress,” he said. “One, of course, the door, the second would be a window.”

And the window has to be large enough for someone to escape.

“If you see someone advertising a bedroom that’s one of those casement windows six inches wide, it actually shouldn’t be advertised in that matter,” Cafferty said.

And if it’s a larger home, does the home have fire sprinklers?

“Ultimately it’s all about safety,” Cafferty said, and he added that when you ask a rental company these important questions in advance, any staff member who deals with the public should have answers that are straightforward and readily available.