Published on November 3, 2014.

MANUFACTURING

TEXAS

Month, Time of Alarm, Dollar Loss
April, 7:30 p.m., $100 million

Property Characteristics and Operating Status
This was a one-story, 12,000-square-foot (1,115-square-meter) fertilizer plant of unprotected wood-frame construction. The plant was closed at the time.
Fire Protection Systems
There was no automatic detection or suppression systems.
Fire Development
A fire of undetermined origin broke out in the seed and fertilizer building in the bulk processing plant, where pallets with bags of seed were stored. Between 28 to 34 tons (28,000 to 34,000 kilograms) of ammonium nitrate were stored in bins near the burning structure. Approximately 22 minutes after the fire was discovered, the ammonium nitrate detonated.
Contributing Factors and Other Details
The explosion left a crater 90 feet (27 meters) wide by 10 feet (3 meters) deep and damaged or destroyed more than 500 structures within a 37-block area, including homes, schools, and an elderly housing complex. Nine firefighters, an EMT, and five civilians were killed, and five firefighters and 250 civilians were injured in the explosion.

 

Firefighters in front of wildland fire

Wildland firefighting operations in California.  Wildfires accounted for three of the 10 most expensive fires in 2013, including a $420.5 million blaze in Colorado.

PHOTO: AP/Wide World

WISCONSIN
Month, Time of Alarm, Dollar Loss

January, 6:04 p.m., $40 million
Property Characteristics and Operating Status
This was a two-story, 12,000-square-foot (1,115-square-meter) egg processing plant of unprotected ordinary construction that was at full operation at the time of the fire.
Fire Protection Systems
The plant had no automatic detection system, but it did have a wet-pipe sprinkler system. Sprinkler coverage was not reported, but the fire occurred in an area that was not protected, so the system did not operate.
Fire Development
The fire, of undetermined cause, began in a ground-floor mechanical room. No information on the fire’s spread was reported. Upon arrival, firefighters saw flames coming from the building. They used water and foam in an attempt to extinguish the fire, but they had little effect. Soon thereafter, an exterior attack was initiated.
Contributing Factors and Other Details
Hazards in the building included ammonia, which leaked after a pipe containing residual product broke. Three firefighters were injured battling this fire. Structural losses were estimated at $30 million, and damage to its contents was estimated at $10 million.

ARKANSAS
Month, Time of Alarm, Dollar Loss
April, 9:21 a.m., $30 million
Property Characteristics and Operating Status
This was a one- and two-story, 250,000-square-foot (23,226-square-meter) aluminum die-cast manufacturing plant of unprotected, noncombustible construction that was operating with a partial crew.
Fire Protection Systems
There were no automatic detection or suppression systems in the building.
Fire Development
Molten metal spewed from a machine, for an unreported reason, and ignited ceiling insulation. Fire then flashed across the manufacturing area. Burning insulation fell on flammables on the floor and ignited them, then burned into a warehouse and a two-story break room.
Contributing Factors and Other Details
Handheld extinguishers, though present, were not used because the fire was too large for employees to handle. One firefighter was injured. Damage to the structure was estimated at $10 million. Damage to its contents, a large part of which was new machinery, was estimated at $20 million.

OHIO
Month, Time of Alarm, Dollar Loss
December, 4:06 p.m., $12.5 million
Property Characteristics and Operating Status
This was a one-story, 8,000-square-foot (743-square-meter) oil reprocessing plant that was operating at the time of the fire with only two people. The construction type was not reported.
Fire Protection Systems
There was a smoke detection system, but the coverage and activation were not reported. There was no sprinkler system.
Fire Development
The fire began in a ground-floor processing area. No additional information was reported.
Contributing Factors and Other Details
The losses to the structure were $500,000, and losses to its contents were $12 million. There was no information on what the contents were.

OHIO
Month, Time of Alarm, Dollar Loss
November, 2:19 p.m., $10.1 million
Property Characteristics and Operating Status
This was a four-story, 3,000-square-foot (279-square-meter) arc furnace building of unprotected, non-combustible construction in a steel mill. It was at full operation at the time of the explosion and fire.
Fire Protection Systems
An unknown type of automatic detection system was present, although its coverage and activation were not reported. Neither were the coverage and activation information of the building’s dry-pipe sprinkler system.
Fire Development
The fire was caused by a backfire in the furnace. Upon arrival, firefighters found heavy fire on several floors of the building. A leak in an oxygen line contributed to the spread of the fire.
Contributing Factors and Other Details
The first two fire hydrants firefighters tried to use were out of service, delaying the location of a water source. Five workers were injured in the fire. The loss was listed as $100,000 to the structure and $10 million to its contents.

IOWA
Month, Time of Alarm, Dollar Loss
June, 1:20 a.m., $10 million
Property Characteristics and Operating Status
This was a three-story, 150,000-square-foot (13,935-square-meter) plastic laminates manufacturing plant of protected, non-combustible construction. It was at full operation at the time of the explosion.
Fire Protection Systems
The plant had no automatic detection system. A wet-pipe sprinkler system provided complete coverage, but it was not effective because the explosion damaged the piping.
Fire Development
Vapor from chemicals used in the manufacturing process exploded when employees tried to restart a furnace that had shut down. Upon arrival, firefighters found smoke showing from the building. As they entered the building, they saw a few post-explosion fires burning and smelled natural gas. The gas main was shut down, and the fires were extinguished.
Contributing Factors and Other Details
Three workers were injured in the explosion, one critically. The loss was listed as $1 million to the structure and $9 million to its contents.

SPECIAL PROPERTIES

CALIFORNIA
Month, Time of Alarm, Dollar Loss

July, 10:31 p.m., $16.5 million
Property Characteristics and Operating Status
This incident occurred in a tunnel on a freeway. At the time, the tunnel was open and traffic was flowing through it.
Fire Protection Systems
No information was reported on any type of protection systems.
Fire Development
A tanker truck carrying 8,500 gallons (32,176 liters) of gasoline crashed in a tunnel and caught fire. The cause of the crash was not reported.
Contributing Factors and Other Details
The fire and heat caused extensive damage to the tunnel and roadway and to vegetation outside the tunnel. The fuel and fumes also entered storm drains, causing several manholes to explode.
 

Aftermath of an fire and explosion at an ammonium nitrate storage facility in Texas

A fire and explosion at an ammonium nitrate storage facility in Texas killed nine firefighters, an EMT, and five civilians, and resulted in an estimated $100 million in property damage.

PHOTO: ©G.J. McCarthy/Dallas Morning News/Corbis

 

WASHINGTON
Month, Time of Alarm, Dollar Loss

July, 3:18 a.m., $13 million
Property Characteristics and Operating Status
This four-story apartment building of unprotected wood-frame construction, which covered 11,700 square feet (1,087 square meters) and contained 32 units, was under construction. It was located in a complex of 10 buildings containing 216 units of similar construction. The property was closed, and no one was on site at the time of the fire.
Fire Protection Systems
The building had no automatic detection system. A wet-pipe sprinkler system was being installed, but it was not yet in service.
Fire Development
The fire, which was incendiary, destroyed two similar apartment buildings and two additional smaller buildings in addition to the building of origin. It also damaged several other buildings.
Contributing Factors and Other Details
No contributing factors were reported. The arsonist was arrested and convicted and is serving a prison sentence.

NORTH DAKOTA
Month, Time of Alarm, Dollar Loss
December, 6:30 a.m., $12 million
Property Characteristics and Operating Status
This four-story apartment building of unprotected wood-frame construction was under construction at the time of the fire. The ground floor area was not reported. It was one of two building and six garages that burned. It was not reported that anyone was at the site at the time of the fire.
Fire Protection Systems
No automatic detection or suppression equipment was present.
Fire Development
The cause and origin of the fire are undetermined.
Contributing Factors and Other Details
Weather conditions were a factor in fighting this fire. The temperature was –6oF (–21oC), and winds were 22 miles (35 kilometers) per hour, with gusts of 32 miles (51 kilometers) per hour.

PENNSYLVANIA
Month, Time of Alarm, Dollar Loss

May, 6:09 a.m., $11.2 million
Property Characteristics and Operating Status
This fire started when a tanker truck carrying 7,700 gallons (29,148 liters) of diesel fuel crashed on a highway interchange. At the time, the highway was open and traffic was flowing.
Fire Protection Systems
No information was reported on any type of protection systems.
Fire Development
A gasoline tanker truck overturned on an elevated roadway, and its contents ignited. The cause of the crash was not reported. Upon arrival, firefighters found the tanker fully involved in flames, with burning diesel fuel flowing down the highway and onto several levels of elevated roadways and ramps. The vehicle operator escaped on his own with minor burns.
Contributing Factors and Other Details
None were reported.

 

WILDLAND FIRE

COLORADO
Month, Time of Alarm, Dollar Loss

June, 1:42 p.m., $420.5 million
Setting
This was a wildland/urban interface fire in a Ponderosa pine forest.
Climate
On the day the fire started, the temperature was 95°F (35°C), and relative humidity was 4 percent, with winds 14 miles (22 kilometers) per hour. It was a red-flag fire warning day.
Origin and path
The fire started in a bowl-shaped area near several homes and spread rapidly when rising winds pushed the fire uphill. The fire traveled eight miles (13 kilometers) on the first day alone. Its cause was not determined.
Contributing Factors and Other Details
Erratic winds and dry, heavy fuel loads contributed to the rapid fire spread. Heavy smoke and low visibility obscured street signs critical to firefighter orientation and escape, and winds and extreme fire behavior hampered aerial suppression efforts. Two civilians who died trying to evacuate were found in their burned-out attached garage. The fire burned 14,280 acres (57,789 hectares) and destroyed 489 homes, one commercial property, and 188 out buildings. It damaged an additional 31 homes and five out buildings. Further information can be found at http://www.bffire.org/District/Investigation_report.html.

SOUTH CAROLINA
Month, Time of Alarm, Dollar Loss
March, 5 p.m., $11.6 million
Setting
Wildland/urban interface in grass and brush.
Climate
On the day of the fire the temperature was 78°F (25.6°C), relative humidity was 45 percent, and winds were 9 to 17 miles (15 to 27 kilometers) per hour, with gusts of 28 miles (45 kilometers) per hour.
Origin and path
This fire began as a brush fire of undetermined cause burning in a wooded area next to a condominium complex and quickly spread into the complex.
Contributing Factors and Other Details
At the time of the fire, there were high winds and low humidity. Thirty buildings containing 124 units were destroyed, as was a clubhouse. Four buildings containing 14 units were also damaged. One firefighter was injured battling this fire, as were four civilians. 

 

A leaking natural gas line in a Missouri shopping district.

In a Missouri shopping district, a leaking natural gas line resulted in a fire that caused $15 million worth of property damage.  The 21 most expensive fires of 2013 resulted in almost $845 million in direct property losses.

PHOTO: AP/Wide World

CALIFORNIA
Month, Time of Alarm, Dollar Loss

December, 12 a.m., $15 million
Setting
This fire burned in a forest of chaparral and heavy timber.
Climate
The temperature that day ranged from a high of 75°F (24°C) to a low of 42°F (6°C), humidity was approximately 42 percent, and winds were approximately 2 miles (3 kilometers) per hour with gusts of 9 miles (14 kilometers) per hour.
Origin and path
No information was reported.
Contributing Factors and Other Details
Conditions were very dry, as there had been only about 1¼ inches (3 centimeters) of rain in the past six months. The fire, which spread over 917 acres (371 hectares), damaged or destroyed 34 homes and four out buildings. Area evacuations were called. 

 

RESIDENTIAL

CONNECTICUT
Month, Time of Alarm, Dollar Loss

April, 4:35 p.m., $50 million
Property Characteristics and Operating Status
This was a two-story, 9,548-square-foot (887-square-meter) single-family home of heavy-timber construction. The owner was at home at the time of the fire.
Fire Protection Systems
The mansion had a complete coverage smoke detection system connected to an off-site alarm company. The system activated, notifying the alarm company and the owner, who heard the alarm go off while he was outside. There was no sprinkler system.
Fire Development
The fire began on the second floor in a wall. During remodeling, a dry wall screw had penetrated an electrical wire located against a wooden wall stud in a void of 4 to 6 inches (10 to 15 centimeters) between the sheetrock and outer wall. Over time, high resistance heating charred the wood, resulting in a fire that ignited the framing before it broke through the sheetrock.
Contributing Factors and Other Details
Structural damage was estimated at $1.1 million. Damage to its contents was estimated at $48.9 million because of the many collectibles and irreplaceable antiques in the wing of the mansion where the fire occurred.

CALIFORNIA
Month, Time of Alarm, Dollar Loss

October, 11:43 a.m., $15 million
Property Characteristics and Operating Status
This was a 25-story high-rise apartment building of protected noncombustible construction. The ground floor area of the apartment of origin was 900 square feet (83.6 square meters). The building was occupied at the time.
Fire Protection Systems
Alarms were reported to have been installed in the public areas. There was no automatic suppression equipment. The coverage and activation were not reported.
Fire Development
The fire began when heat from abandoned or discarded smoking materials ignited combustibles placed too close to them in the kitchen of a two-bedroom apartment on the eleventh floor of the building. No additional information was reported on the fire’s development.
Contributing Factors and Other Details
No information was reported.

TENNESSEE
Month, Time of Alarm, Dollar Loss

March, 4:19 p.m., $11.8 million
Property Characteristics and Operating Status
This fire started in a two-story, 1,040-square-foot (97-square-meter), single-family rental cabin of unprotected wood-frame construction. The cabin, which was empty at the time of the fire, was one of many in a resort that covered 160 acres (65 hectares) of hilly terrain.
Fire Protection Systems
It was not determined if a detection system was present. There was no sprinkler system.
Fire Development
The fire began on the rear deck near a hot tub. Although the cause of the fire could not be determined, investigators listed it as unintentional. The fire spread to 73 similar structures and the woods.
Contributing Factors and Other Details
The fire quickly escalated due to high winds, the close proximity of the structures, the steep terrain, and the poor water supply. It destroyed 53 of the cabins, damaged the other 20 to varying degrees, and injured three firefighters.

PUBLIC ASSEMBLY PROPERTIES

 

MISSOURI
Month, Time of Alarm, Dollar Loss

February, 6:04 a.m., $15 million
Property Characteristics and Operating Status
This one-story restaurant of protected noncombustible construction covered 5,000 square feet (465 square meters). The restaurant was open at the time of the explosion and fire.
Fire Protection Systems
No information was reported on automatic detection equipment. A sprinkler system providing full coverage was operating when firefighters arrived, although no information on its effectiveness was reported.
Fire Development
This explosion and fire occurred when natural gas from a damaged line outside the restaurant leaked into the building and came into contact with heat from operating cooking equipment.
Contributing Factors and Other Details
Six buildings in the area were damaged to varying degrees. The fire killed one person and injured at least 15.

Aftermath of airplane fire

Massachusetts firefighters investigate a fire on board a Boeing 787 aircraft that caused an estimated $10 million in damage. The investigation has focused on a lithium-ion battery and components from the aircraft's electronics bay.

PHOTO: ©Stephan Savoia/AP/Corbis

MARYLAND
Month, Time of Alarm, Dollar Loss

October, 12:11 a.m., $10 million
Property Characteristics and Operating Status
This was a one-story pizza parlor of unprotected noncombustible construction in a strip mall that covered 240,000 square feet (22,297 square meters). Its operating status was not reported.
Fire Protection Systems
Neither automatic detection nor suppression equipment was present.
Fire Development
The fire, which was of undetermined cause, began in the food preparation and storage area. No further information was reported.
Contributing Factors and Other Details
Due to heavy smoke, extreme heat, and the lack of structural integrity of the building, firefighters abandoned their interior attack and went to a defensive attack. Damage to the structure was listed as $6 million, while damage to its contents was listed at $4 million.

 

STORAGE PROPERTIES

INDIANA
Month, Time of Alarm, Dollar Loss

June, 12:59 p.m., $20 million
Property Characteristics and Operating Status
This two-story warehouse of unprotected ordinary construction, which covered 440,000 square feet (40,877 square meters), contained a 500-gallon (1,893-liter) propane tank, tires, wood pallets, shingles, siding, and heavy equipment. Whether the warehouse was operating or closed at the time of the fire is unknown.
Fire Protection Systems
No information was reported on automatic detection or suppression systems.
Fire Development
The cause of this fire was not determined. When they arrived, firefighters saw heavy fire and smoke coming from the building and noted that it had partially collapsed.
Contributing Factors and Other Details
Contributing to the difficulties of fighting the fire were 30 exploding propane tanks, the sizes of which were not reported; difficulties with private hydrants; high winds; train tracks; and spot fires caused by flying embers. Four firefighters were injured battling this fire.

 

EDUCATIONAL PROPERTIES

CALIFORNIA
Month, Time of Alarm, Dollar Loss

January, 2:27 a.m., $10.5 million
Property Characteristics and Operating Status
This one-story, L-shaped high school of unprotected ordinary construction covered 40,000 square feet (3,716 square meters) and was closed at the time of the fire.
Fire Protection Systems
Smoke detectors were present and operated, although their coverage was not reported. There was no suppression equipment.
Fire Development
The fire began when an ice-making machine in the school’s kitchen malfunctioned and overheated. The fire spread from the machine to the wall and into a void that extended to the attic without fire stops. The fire then spread throughout the attic, causing a ceiling below the fire to collapse, forcing the firefighters to withdraw and go to a defensive attack.
Contributing Factors and Other Details
Once the fire entered the void, it spread throughout the building because there were no fire stops. One firefighter was injured battling this fire.

 

VEHICLES

MASSACHUSETTS
Month, Time of Alarm, Dollar Loss

January, 10:37 a.m., $10 million
Property Characteristics and Operating Status
The fire started in a commercial Boeing 787 jet aircraft parked at a gate at the airport.
Fire Protection Systems
No information was reported on detection or suppression equipment on the aircraft.
Fire Development
The jetliner had been parked at a gate for 15 minutes when cleaning and maintenance personnel noticed smoke in the cabin and cockpit and discovered that an auxiliary power unit had shut down automatically. Soon afterwards, a mechanic found smoke and heavy fire coming from an aft electronics bay. Investigators are still investigating a lithium-ion battery and several components from the plane’s electronics bay.
Contributing Factors and Other Details
There were no passengers on board the aircraft. One firefighter was injured during the fire. An investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is still underway. The NTSB’s preliminary report can be found at the NTSB's website.