During the Halloween season, Kevin Noah is in the business of scaring people. For the past two years, he has rented a 5,000-square-foot barn off Marvin Road for the My Morbid Mind haunted house.
Last year he had 3,000 visitors, twice as many as the year before, he said. But he received word from the county fire marshal that the operation could be shut down if he didn’t meet international fire code standards, including installing a sprinkler system that Noah estimates would cost $20,000.
“They did pre-warn us, which is pretty fair,” he said.
So, although the barn is still packed with haunted house supplies, the cost was too great and Noah decided to cancel this year’s haunted house.
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He’s not the only haunted house organizer in the county having problems meeting the code.
Several have been shut down by the fire marshal’s office as it steps up enforcement of international fire codes, fire marshal Cliff Moore said.
“We’re trying to work with the folks and make them aware of the new requirements and the alternatives they might have,” Moore said. “We can’t approve permits at a temporary amusement facility if they don’t have those safety precautions built in.”
He noted that other counties also are ramping up enforcement and that the permitted haunted houses tend to be in commercial buildings.
The stricter enforcement is a change from last year’s approach. Then there were three haunted houses in county jurisdiction, but none met all of the requirements, Moore said.
Instead of shutting them down, the county performed nightly inspections to keep the facilities open. However, those inspections came with a warning.
“We let them know last year those regulations would be enforced this year,” he said.
He added that enforcing the newer standards has nothing to do with quashing the Halloween spirit and everything to do with safety. Moore points out that haunted houses are designed to be disorienting and confusing, often sending visitors through a maze inside a structure.
“If there were to be a fire in one of those it could be a disaster,” he said.
That’s why the county is enforcing the international fire code, which includes requirements such as emergency lighting, lighted exits and sprinkler systems.
One of the haunted houses that couldn’t meet standard is the one put on by Lattin’s Country Cider Mill and Farm.
Debbie Lattin, one of the owners, said she got word last week about their haunted house’s code violations – just a day before they were set to open for their 13th year. She said the business never received the list of required changes for this year.
“We’re just kind of sorry and sad that it seems to be taken away from us now,” Lattin said.
The haunted house at Lattin’s did not meet code requirements for emergency lighting, smoke detector, fire alarm, lighted exits and use of plastic. Plastic isn’t allowed, Moore said.
It’s not just county haunted houses dealing with the new regulations.
The Educats 4-H Club had to relocate its haunted house because the building did not have a sprinkler system. Club members were able to find a location at the last minute that was up to code for amusement facilities, their organizer said.
There have been no permitted haunted houses in Olympia this year, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some without permits, says Robert Bradley, Olympia fire marshal.
Bradley says that often, smaller functions don’t apply for permits, but he still will do inspections if he gets word of a haunted house popping up.
With a $20,000 upgrade required for continued scares at the My Morbid Mind barn, Noah says he plans to bite the bullet and have the system ready for next year. He hopes to make enough money to cover the cost, which he says may take every dime he makes.
Nate Hulings: 360-754-5476 firstname.lastname@example.org