Author(s): Ken Tremblay. Published on December 29, 2014.

RESIDENTIAL

Man dies in cooking fire

WISCONSIN—A man died in a fire that started on the kitchen stove in his single-family home.

The two-story, wood-frame house, which measured 40 feet (12 meters) by 28 feet (9 meters), had a smoke alarm, but firefighters did not hear it operating. There were no sprinklers.

A neighbor called 911 at 5:37 a.m. to report that a house was on fire and that the occupant was trapped inside. By the time firefighters arrived seven minutes later, they found most of the first floor of the home involved in flames. The incident commander began a defensive attack and ordered additional resources to the scene.

Once the fire was under control, firefighters entered the house to search for the trapped man. Upon reaching the second floor, however, they encountered intense heat and had to pull back. Additional hose lines were deployed to control the fire, which was spreading to the garage. Forty-five minutes later, firefighters spotted the victim through a first-floor window.

Investigators determined that the fire started on the stove and spread to other areas of the house undetected. Possible alcohol impairment was cited as a contributing factor.

The victim, whose age was not reported, died of smoke inhalation and burns. The fire destroyed the house, which was valued at $85,000.

Two die in smoking materials fire

NORTH DAKOTA—A 42-year-old woman and a 30-year-old man died in a fire in their apartment when they failed to respond to the smoke alarm. Fortunately, the alarm alerted the tenants of other apartments in the 20-unit building, who escaped without incident and called 911 at 5:15 a.m.

The three-story, wood-frame apartment building had no sprinklers. Battery-operated smoke alarms had been installed in each apartment, and there were interconnected, hardwired smoke alarms in the building’s common spaces. However, the system was not monitored.

When firefighters arrived, they found the fire burning in a second-floor apartment and entered it to search for the victims. They found the woman across the threshold of a bedroom and resuscitated her before transporting her to the hospital, where she died of smoke inhalation. The man was found in the bathroom, where he had died of burns and smoke inhalation.

A witness told investigators that the pair had been up till the early hours of the morning drinking alcohol and smoking. When the witness left at 3:30 a.m., one of them was asleep on a couch in the living room. About two hours later, the detectors sounded and woke the building’s other residents. The investigators determined that the fire started when smoking materials ignited the couch’s upholstery.

The building, valued at $1.3 million, sustained an estimated loss of $125,000. Damage to its contents was estimated at $25,000.

Wood stove source of fatal fire

MONTANA—An 82-year-old man died of smoke inhalation and carbon monoxide poisoning in a fire that started when heat from his wood stove ignited combustibles in his manufactured home.

The single-story, single-family home, which was 10 feet (3 meters) wide and 50 feet (15 meters) long, was equipped with a single-station, battery-operated smoke alarm, but investigators could not determine whether it operated.

A passerby noticed the fire and called 911 at 2:40 a.m. Firefighters arrived to find that the roof had partially collapsed and that heavy fire was coming from several openings. The victim’s son told the incident commander that his father lived alone and was most likely still in the house.

Fire crews walking around the home found the man, who had managed to escape through a bedroom window, and moved him to a safer location, where they performed CPR for about five minutes until the heat forced them to stop. After using a hose line to knock down the flames, firefighters again began trying to resuscitate the victim until more help arrived.

Investigators determined that heat from the wood stove ignited kindling, firewood, and other combustibles stored next to it and that the fire then spread to the rest of the dwelling.

The fire destroyed the home, which was valued at $30,000, and its contents, valued at $10,000.

Two-year-old dies in house fire

TEXAS—A two-year-old girl died of smoke inhalation and burns in an early morning fire in her single-family house that began when an electrical device on a mattress ignited the bedding. The one-story, wood-frame house had no smoke alarms or sprinklers.

The fire department arrived to find smoke and flames coming from the front door and several windows. Five of the six people living in the house had managed to escape and were trying to extinguish the fire with a garden hose. Fire crews entered the house and followed the burn patterns to a bedroom, where they found the body of the little girl lying on the floor near a table.

Firefighters learned that the child’s grandfather discovered the fire just before 1:30 a.m. when he heard his granddaughter crying and coughing. When he went to investigate, he encountered smoke in the hallway and yelled for the other occupants to get out of the house and call 911.

Using a flashlight and crawling on his hands and knees, he then tried to find his grandaughter. He made it to the child’s room before the heavy black smoke and heat forced him out of the house.

Investigators determined that an electrical device on a mattress ignited the bedding.

The house, valued at $138,700, sustained an estimated loss of $35,000. Damage to its contents, valued at $65,000, was estimated at $25,000.

Candle causes fatal fire

MICHIGAN—A 71-year-old woman with a mobility impairment died of smoke inhalation and burns in a fire that started when a candle that had been left burning unattended ignited combustible materials.

The two-story, wood-frame house, which was 51 feet (16 meters) long and 24 feet (7 meters) wide, had a battery-operated smoke alarm in the room of origin. There were no sprinklers.

The homeowner was outside in the garage when the victim called him on the phone from the house but the call was disconnected. As he walked towards the house to see what she wanted, he noticed the smoke. He ran in through the back door to the front porch, which had been converted into a bedroom for the victim, and tried to use a lift to get her out of the room. However, the increasing smoke and heat drove him from the house.

The homeowner’s son, who was in his room on the second floor, called 911 to report the fire at 10:08 a.m. after he heard breaking glass and his room began to fill with smoke.

Firefighters arrived one minute after the alarm and found heavy fire and smoke coming from the house. They entered through the front door and found the obese victim, who was still in her bed. They dragged her to the front door where another crew helped move her outside, where she was attended to by EMS crews.

The homeowner’s son managed to escape through his bedroom window onto the porch roof and make his way to the ground.

Investigators determined that the fire started in the dining room on the first floor near the victim’s makeshift bedroom when a candle left burning unattended on the dining table ignited some nearby material.

Damage to the structure was estimated at $165,000; damage to its contents was estimated at $95,000.

Hoarding contributes to three fire deaths

ARIZONA— A 72-year-old man, his 71-year-old wife, and their adult daughter died of smoke inhalation when they were unable to escape from a fire in their home because boxes, furniture, and clothing blocked all the exits except one.

The single-story manufactured home, which was 40 feet (12 meters) long and 28 feet (8.5 meters) wide, had battery-operated smoke alarms in the living room and bedrooms.

A neighbor called 911 at 12:40 a.m. to report the fire, and responding firefighters fought the blaze for over an hour before they brought it under control due to the heavy fuel load. Excessive storage filled the entire dwelling, leaving only small paths leading from room to room. Fire crews found two of the victims on the front porch and the third in the living room.

Investigators believe the fire started in the wall between the kitchen and the carport, blocking the home’s only accessible exit.

The fire destroyed the house, which was valued at $33,569, and its contents, valued at $25,000.

Woman dies in house fire

KANSAS—A 75-year-old woman, who lived alone in her single-family home, died in a fire that began on top of the mattress in her bedroom.

The two-story, wood-frame house, which was 50 feet (15 meters) long and 30 feet (9 meters) wide, had no sprinklers. A single-station, battery-operated smoke alarm in the second-floor hallway had no battery.

A passerby noticed smoke coming from the house and called 911 at 3:46 p.m. Firefighters arrived two minutes later to find heavy smoke coming from the rear bedroom window on the second floor. Neighbors told them that the woman was probably at home, as her car was in the driveway.

Fire crews entered the house with a hose line and immediately began searching for the victim. However, they were hampered by the condition of the house, which was filled on both floors with her belongings. They managed to extinguish the fire, which was confined to the second floor, and found the victim in her bedroom, which suffered heavy fire damage. She had died of smoke inhalation.

Investigators indicated that the victim suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and other health problems that may have hindered her ability to escape.

Fire damage to the house, which was valued at $113,000, was estimated at $53,500.

Elderly man dies in house fire

WISCONSIN—An 80-year-old man with mobility disabilities died in a fire that started when a space heater ignited combustibles in the kitchen of his single-family home, which was cluttered with his belongings.

The single-story manufactured home, which was barricaded both inside and out with locks and chains on all the doors, had no smoke alarms or sprinklers.

A neighbor noticed the fire and called 911 at 9:42 a.m. After firefighters extinguished the blaze, they found the victim, who used two canes to walk, lying on the floor next to the refrigerator in the kitchen. It appeared to investigators that he had fallen and knocked over a 30-year-old space heater, which ignited the contents of the kitchen. Hoarded items provided ample fuel for the fire, and the locks and chains that the victim had installed on the structure’s doors complicated the firefighters’ entry.

The victim died of smoke and carbon monoxide inhalation. The fire destroyed the house and its contents, the value of which was not reported.

Couple killed in house fire

FLORIDA—A 65-year-old man and his 64-year-old wife, both of whom had mobility disabilities, died in a house fire that started when the man, who used a wheel chair, splattered hot cooking grease on the kitchen cabinets and the floor.

The one-story, wood-frame house, which measured 50 feet (15 meters) by 24 feet (7 meters), had no smoke alarms or sprinklers.

An occupant of the house called 911 at 5:45 p.m., but the couple was unable to use the wheelchair ramp to escape because it was blocked by fire. Both victims suffered smoke inhalation; the man was also burned.

The home, which was valued at $40,000, sustained damage estimated at $30,000. Its contents, valued at $10,000, sustained an estimated $5,000 in damage.

Smoking materials start fatal fire

OREGON—A 60-year-old woman who had a mobility disability died of burns and smoke inhalation in her bedroom when smoking materials ignited her mattress and bedding.

The two-story, single-family, wood-frame house, which covered just over 1,000 square feet (93 square meters), had no smoke alarms or sprinklers.

The fire department received a call reporting the fire at 9:29 a.m., and firefighters arrived five minutes later to find smoke coming from the second floor. The victim’s boyfriend was outside the burning house when firefighters arrived and told them that the victim was still inside, on the second floor. Crews immediately went into rescue mode, encountering heavy smoke on the second floor, where they found the woman lying on a bed in one of the bedrooms.

Investigators determined that the fire was caused by smoking materials.

The house, valued at $65,000, sustained damage estimated at $50,000. Its contents, valued at $20,000, sustained $2,000 in damage.

Extension cord starts fatal fire

MICHIGAN—A 62-year-old man died in a fire that began when the cord of an electric heater ignited combustibles in his single-family home. The one-story, wood-frame house had a single battery-operated smoke alarm.

One of the occupants awoke to the fire and called 911 at 3:46 a.m. Responding firefighters extinguished the blaze and found the victim in a bathroom off his bedroom, overcome by smoke.

Investigators determined that the space heater had been plugged into an electrical extension cord that had too small a gauge. The cord overloaded, then overheated, igniting the upholstered chair under which it was run and the items on the chair, including diapers, a plastic baby seat, and other child-care items. The flames then spread to the wall paneling and into the hall towards the victim’s bedroom.

The fire damaged approximately 50 percent of the house, but the estimated loss was not reported.

ASSEMBLY

Sprinkler puts out incendiary fire

MINNESOTA—Firefighters arrived four minutes after receiving a water flow alarm from a local library at 3 p.m. to find that a single sprinkler had already extinguished the fire. The sprinkler was part of a monitored wet-pipe system.

The police also responded to the alarm and took photos of members of the public who had gathered outside the building. When the investigation showed that someone had deliberately ignited a plastic soap dispenser in the library’s bathroom, police reviewed footage from the building’s security camera and matched a figure seen entering and leaving the bathroom just before the fire began with a photo of a teenager taken outside the library during the fire. They arrested the teenager and charged him with arson.

Fire damage to the $10.5 million building was estimated at $10,540. There were no injuries.

INSTITUTIONAL

Sprinkler controls dryer fire

MAINE—The fire suppression system installed in a correctional facility controlled a fire in the building’s laundry room until firefighters arrived to extinguish it.
The exterior walls of the single-story, wood-frame facility were metal-sheathed, prefabricated panels with a foam core. It had a wood-truss roof covered by a rubber membrane.

Firefighters received the alarm at 6:50 a.m. and arrived about 14 minutes later to find heavy smoke coming from the building. An engine company stretched a hose line into the laundry room, where a sprinkler had controlled most of the fire, which investigators determined started when clothes in a dryer ignited. Heat from the fire eventually caused the window on the dryer door to fail, allowing heat and smoke to escape. A smoke detector provided the first alarm, followed by a water flow alarm once the sprinkler operated.

Damage to the contents of the building, which was valued at $10 million, was estimated at $10,000. There were no injuries.

MANUFACTURING

Processing plant piping explodes

WISCONSIN—Despite the activation of sprinklers, a processing plant that dried raw milk using gas-fired dryers sustained more than $100,000 damage when an explosion and fire erupted in a piping system.

The four-story, steel-frame building, which was built in the 1950s, had monitored suppression and detection systems, as well as several passive protection features, such as roof-mounted explosion panels.

The fire department received the alarm at 11:59 p.m. Responding firefighters, who could see smoke and flames coming from the roof while they were still several blocks away from the building, made their way to the third floor, where they noted that the piping had mechanical damage. An aerial ladder was also set up so fire crews could extinguish small fires around the blast panels on the roof.

The plant’s staff told investigators that they saw smoke coming from a number of drying units and noted that the temperature in the piping system was rising. When the piping suppression system activated, the staff shut it down but the temperature continued to rise, and they reactivated the system. Shortly afterward, there was an explosion in the piping system, and the staff evacuated the building.

Although the sprinkler system activated, firefighters determined that it did not reach all the product involved in the fire. The cause of the fire was under investigation pending results of an engineering evaluation.

The building, valued at more than $1.8 million, sustained a $10,000 loss. Its contents, valued at $15 million, sustained $100,000 in damage.

MERCANTILE

Sprinklers control two fires in furniture store

IOWA—Several sprinklers held two fires set in a furniture store that was closed for the night in check until firefighters arrived to extinguish them.
The two-story building, which covered approximately 30,000 square feet (2,787 square meters), was protected by a wet-pipe sprinkler system.

Firefighters arriving at the store a few minutes after receiving a water flow alarm at 5 a.m. found smoke coming from the building. When they entered, they found that the visibility was so poor they had to use a thermal imaging camera to locate the fire. As they approached it, however, the camera stopped working, and they had to leave the store to replace the battery.

They re-entered the store, advancing a hose line along a narrow corridor surrounded on either side by furniture, and extinguished one fire, which was burning under a desk. They found and extinguished a second fire in a mattress storage area.

The cause of the fire was still under investigation when the fire department’s report was completed.

The building, valued at $768,000, sustained $135,000 in damage. Damage to its contents, valued at $750,000, was estimated at $101,000.

STORAGE

Explosion in storage building

MICHIGAN—A 54-year-old man had first-, second-, and third-degree burns to his upper body when his boat, which was stored in a marina building, exploded as he worked on it. The ensuing fire spread to six of the 80 boats in the building, before the sprinkler system limited further fire spread.

The one-story, metal-frame building, which covered approximately 37,000 square feet (3,437 square meters), had a fire detection system that provided heat and smoke detectors, as well as a wet-pipe sprinkler system.

The victim was performing maintenance inside his boat, and another man was working on the bow of an adjacent boat at the same time. Each boat had been elevated from the floor on jacks, and ladders were needed to get onto them.

The man on the bow of his boat felt a pressure wave that nearly knocked him to the ground, then saw flaming debris raining down inside the building, followed by smoke and flames. Jumping down, he saw that the boat next to his had been blown off its jacks and its front had been peeled off.

He tried to find the other boat’s owner, but flames 20 feet (6 meters) high forced him to retreat and he ran to the storage yard office for help, calling 911 as he went. When he returned to the building, he saw the burned victim walking out on his own. The victim was moved away from the building and cared for by another boat owner until an ambulance arrived to take him to a hospital.

When firefighters arrived, they found the sprinklers controlling the blaze. Smoke from burning fiberglass and fuel made suppression difficult.

Investigators determined that the explosion occurred when a butane torch the victim was using to heat shrink tubing around electrical wires ignited gasoline vapors that had built up in the cabin.

The building, which was valued at $2 million, sustained $500,000 in damage. Its contents, valued at $26 million, sustained an estimated $3.5 million in damage.

KEN TREMBLAY for NFPA Journal