Author(s): Ken Tremblay. Published on July 1, 2015.

MANUFACTURING

Asphalt storage tank ignites in $1 million fire

WASHINGTON—Firefighters observed a fire in a 13,000-gallon (49,210-liter) storage tank containing diesel fuel and an asphalt mixture from a safe distance until it burned itself down to a manageable size before they used a foam truck from a nearby airport to extinguish it.

The owner of an adjacent property discovered the fire at the asphalt plant and called 911 at 3:54 a.m. At approximately the same time, the fire department also received a call reporting a vehicle fire along the nearby highway and additional reports of a fire involving a fuel truck and propane tanks. When firefighters arrived six minutes later, they discovered that the fire was actually in the storage tank at the asphalt plant, which was next to the highway, and not on the highway itself. Nonetheless, the police shut the highway down and alerted nearby residents of the fire.

After staging from a safe distance until he could determine the tank’s contents, the incident commander ordered additional resources to the scene. He also talked to a representative from the plant, who informed him that the tank contained a mixture of diesel fuel and asphalt.

Investigators could not determine the cause of the fire, which did just over $1 million in damage. There were no injuries.

RESIDENTIAL

No smoke alarms present in dwelling fire

KENTUCKY—A woman died in her manufactured home in a fire that started in a stereo cabinet. The home, which measured 70 feet (21 meters) by 14 feet (4 meters), had no smoke alarms or sprinklers.

A neighbor saw smoke coming from the home’s eaves and called 911 at 7:07 a.m. Responding firefighters rapidly extinguished the blaze and found the victim on her bed in the bedroom nearest the area of origin, overcome by smoke and heat.

Investigators determined that the fire started in a home stereo system that was plugged into a 120-volt electrical outlet, then spread into the kitchen and living room.

Fire damage to the house and its contents, together valued at $7,000, was estimated at $2,500.

Fire caused by smoking materials kills three

VIRGINIA—A 61-year-old man, a 60-year-old woman, and a 19-year-old man died in a fire in their manufactured home when flames blocked their primary exit. They were unable to use the second exit because it had been padlocked from the outside.

The dwelling, which was 52 feet (16 meters) long and 10 feet (3 meters) wide, had no sprinklers, and the owners had removed its smoke alarms.
The fire was discovered by a guard at a nearby military installation, who saw smoke and flames coming from the house and called 911 at 3:22 a.m. Arriving firefighters, who had responded to fires in the home before, found the structure heavily involved in flames. Upon searching the house, they found the older man and the woman in a bedroom and the younger man near the point of origin. All three were in escaping positions, and each had been overcome by smoke and burns.

Investigators determined that the fire started when smoking materials ignited a chair in the living room.

The fire destroyed the home, which was valued at $40,000, and its contents, valued at $10,000.

Hair dryer ignites fatal fire

FLORIDA—A 69-year-old man died in a fire in his manufactured home when a hot hair dryer ignited a bath towel after he fell asleep. The single-story manufactured home, which covered an area of approximately 588 square feet (55 square meters), had no smoke alarms or sprinklers.

The fire burned through the home until a passerby noticed it and called 911 at 11:54 p.m. Investigators determined that the victim had used the hair dryer after taking a shower and that residual heat from the dryer ignited a towel on a vanity. The resulting fire then spread to other combustibles.

The fire destroyed the house, valued at $3,230, and its contents, valued at $6,770. Alcohol was listed as a contributing factor in the victim’s inability to escape.

Man dies when smoking materials ignite futon

MAINE—A 25-year-old man died in his third-floor apartment in a fire that started when smoking materials ignited a futon after he and his girlfriend had gone to bed.

The three-story, wood-frame apartment building, which had one unit on each floor, had local smoke alarms, which operated, but no sprinklers.

A passerby noticed the fire and called 911 at 3:37 a.m. When arriving firefighters, who saw smoke and flames coming from the third-floor windows, were told that someone was trapped inside, they took the exterior stairs to the third floor and tried to enter the apartment. Unfortunately, the excessive heat caused them to turn back until they knocked the fire in the unit’s living room down with a hose line. Crews then entered the apartment, where they found the victim and took him to the hospital. The building’s other occupants managed to evacuate by themselves, including the victim’s girlfriend, who suffered smoke inhalation and burns.

Investigators spoke with the woman, who told them that she and her boyfriend were watching television and smoking on the futon. She said that some ashes had fallen on the futon but that they did not appear to have ignited, so they went to bed, only to be awoken later by smoke and heat. The investigators felt that alcohol may have been a contributing factor in the victim’s death.

The fire resulted in $125,000 in damages. Fire damage was limited to the third floor; damage to lower floors was limited to water damage.

Woman dies of heart attack during garage fire

CONNECTICUT—A 71-year-old woman died of a heart attack as she tried to move her car away from a fire started by the exterior lighting on her home’s detached garage.

The wood-frame garage, which was 24 feet (7 meters) long and 16 feet (5 meters) wide, had no fire detection or suppression equipment.

A neighbor noticed the fire and went over to alert the homeowners while calling 911 on a cell phone at 8:20 p.m. The homeowners immediately went outside, and the man tried to enter the garage while his wife moved the car. When he looked over his shoulder, he saw that his wife had collapsed at the wheel.

Arriving firefighters extinguished the fire and provided medical aid to the woman, who was later transported to the hospital, where she was pronounced dead of cardiac arrest.

Investigators determined that earlier in the day, an exterior halogen landscape light had been placed against the garage’s exterior wooden siding while the garage was being painted. As night fell, the photoelectric cell activated the light, which heated the siding to its ignition point.

The fire destroyed the garage, valued at $5,000, and its contents.

Hoarding in home contributes to fatal fire

ILLINOIS—A 58-year-old woman died in her single-family house when overloaded extension cords overheated underneath piles of paper, books, and clothes that were stacked throughout the dwelling.

The two-story, wood-frame house, which covered an area of approximately 1,100 square feet (102 square meters), had smoke alarms in the hallway and kitchen that were sounding when firefighters arrived.

A passerby noticed the fire and called police to report it at 7:30 p.m., but investigators suspect that it may have been burning for 15 to 20 minutes before it was discovered. They determined that the fire started in a first-floor bedroom and that the fire alarm sounded, alerting the woman to the blaze. However, she had collected so many books, papers, and clothes that only small paths allowed her to move from room to room, and she only made it to the bathroom before collapsing in the bathtub.

The building, valued at $65,000, and its contents, valued at $25,000, sustained a combined loss estimated at $55,000.

Vehicle explosion kills one, injures another

FLORIDA—A 38-year-old man died and a 58-year-old man was injured when an explosion in the vehicle compartment of the car they were approaching showered the garage of a single-family home nearby and a boat on a trailer in its driveway with burning debris. A third man walking behind the victims was sheltered by the house and escaped injury.

Investigators determined that the explosion occurred when vapors from oxygen and acetylene cylinders that were being stored in the car were ignited either by the activation of the car’s remote key entry or by smoking materials. Once they ignited, the fumes exploded.

Damage to the garage and boat, which were valued at $225,000, was estimated at $100,000. Damage to the vehicle and other items in the garage, which were valued at $50,000, was estimated at $10,000.

Two die in house fire

CALIFORNIA—A 64-year-old man died of smoke and heat inhalation and a 34-year-old man suffered smoke and heat inhalation injuries in a fire that began in the game room of their single-family home. One victim had a mobility disability and the other had a cognitive disability that might have affected their ability to escape.

The one-story, three-bedroom, wood-frame house, which was approximately 74 feet (23 meters) long and 25 feet (8 meters) wide, had vinyl and stone siding and a wooden roof covered with asphalt shingles. The game room was located in an attached garage that had been converted to living space. There were no smoke alarms and no sprinklers.

Firefighters received a 911 call at 5:13 p.m. from a neighbor who discovered the fire when she saw smoke and flames coming from the house as she jogged by. Other neighbors who saw the fire forced open the front door in attempt to rescue the occupants, but they were driven back by the heavy black smoke.
The bystanders told arriving firefighters that as many as three people might still be in the house, which was filled with smoke to about chest level.

Shortly after the crews entered the home with a hose line and a thermal imaging camera, they found one of the victims in the living room. After knocking down the fire, they removed him and found the other in a bedroom. Attempts to revive the second victim were unsuccessful. Two pets were also overcome by smoke.
Investigators determined that the fire started when a battery charger overheated and ignited combustibles in the garage, where a workbench filled with paint, rags, and electrical automotive parts was still stored.

The house, valued at $150,000, sustained $50,000 in damage. Its contents, valued at $50,000, sustained $20,000 in damage.

Sprinkler extinguishes fraternity house fire

NEW HAMPSHIRE—A single sprinkler extinguished a fire involving cardboard boxes in trash barrels located in the basement doorway of a college fraternity house, limiting fire damage.

The three-story, 30-unit fraternity house was 80 feet (24 meters) long and 30 feet (9 meters) wide. It was equipped with a wet-pipe sprinkler system whose water flow was monitored by a fire alarm system that consisted of hardwired smoke detectors with battery backup.

Although the sprinkler quickly extinguished the fire, which did not create enough smoke to reach smoke detectors, the water flow alarm alerted firefighters to the incident at 3 a.m. Responding crews arrived to see light smoke coming from the basement doorway, near which sat burned trash barrels filled with empty cardboard boxes. The sprinkler had already extinguished the blaze.

Looking around the scene, the firefighters saw an open can of mineral spirits and evidence of a lighter floating on the water discharged from the sprinklers into one of the trash barrels. Investigators later determined that someone had poured mineral spirits onto the cardboard and ignited it with an open flame, creating a flash fire. There was also evidence of a recent party near the area of origin.

Damage to the structure and its contents was minor.

Girl dies in house fire after failing to leave

OHIO—A 15-year-old girl died of smoke inhalation and burns after making her way to the door of her burning home, and going back inside.

The one-story, single-family, wood-frame house, which was 40 feet (12 meters) long and 30 feet (9 meters) wide, had no smoke alarms, sprinklers, or interior doors.

The girl’s brother was asleep on the living room couch when he awoke to see a fire burning in his parents’ bedroom next to the front door. He got up and ran to wake his sister, who acknowledged him, then ran to a neighbor’s home to call 911 at 5:37 a.m. Witnesses indicated that the sister made her way the front door, but went back inside the house.

The fire department arrived four minutes after the boy’s call and found the entire house heavily involved in flames. When the bystanders told them that the girl was still in the house, they entered and found her near her bedroom window at the rear of the house. She had been overcome by smoke.

Investigators determined that the fire started in the parents’ bedroom or in the attic above the bedroom, but could not determine the cause. The lack of smoke alarms and the open floor plan allowed the heat, smoke, and flames to quickly engulf the interior of the home. Since the fire started in a room next to the primary exit, it quickly blocked the primary exit. The secondary exit in the kitchen was blocked by a refrigerator.

The fire destroyed the building, valued at $20,000, and its contents, valued at $5,000.

House fire kills one, injures another

CALIFORNIA— Two men managed to escape from a fire that began in the kitchen of their single-family house, while a woman who was trapped inside died.

The single-story, wood-frame house, which covered 2,000 square feet (186 square meters), had no smoke alarms or sprinklers, and security bars covered all the windows.

The fire department received several calls reporting the fire at 8:38 a.m. When firefighters arrived six minutes later, they saw heavy smoke and flames coming from the rear and side of the house. One of the men who had escaped told them that the woman was still inside, so the incident commander ordered an interior attack and search and rescue. Fire crews found the woman unconscious in a rear bedroom and took her to the hospital, where she died. One of the men was also taken to the hospital for treatment of smoke inhalation and burns.

Investigators were able to speak with the men who lived in the house, one of whom had discovered the fire and tried to put it out with a garden hose while yelling to the others to get out of the house. The yelling woke the other man, who managed to evacuate through the smoke that quickly filled the house. The investigators could not determine the cause of the fire.

The fire did $600,000 in damage to the house, which was valued at $700,000, and $150,000 in damage to its contents, valued at $175,000.

Sprinkler extinguishes apartment building fire

TENNESSEE—A single sprinkler extinguished a fire that began in the apartment of a man with a mobility disability when a pan of smoking oil he was trying to put into the sink suddenly ignited.

The single-story, wood-frame apartment building measured 100 feet (30 meters) by 45 feet (14 meters) and contained five units. A wet-pipe sprinkler system provided coverage in all the living areas, and smoke detectors were located in the hallway of each unit.

The man was cooking eggs, when he left the stove unattended to use the bathroom. In his absence, the oil in the pan overheated and began smoking. After he returned, he tried to move the pan to the sink when it suddenly ignited. Fortunately, the sprinkler activated, extinguishing the fire and preventing the man from 
being injured.

The building, valued at $250,000, and its contents, valued at $5,000, sustained damage estimated at just $1,100.

88-year old man dies in house fire

IOWA—An 88-year-old man died of smoke inhalation and burns in an early-morning fire that started in the basement of his one-story, single-family home.

The ranch-style house, which covered an area of approximately 2,400 square feet (223 square meters), had a single-station, battery-operated smoke alarm in the basement. There were no sprinklers anywhere in the house.

Neighbors awoke at 3:30 a.m. to what they thought was the sound of gunshots and found smoke and flames coming from a house near the rear of their property. Firefighters responding to their 911 call found heavy fire coming from the windows at the rear and side of the house and saw the man’s car in the driveway. The neighbors told them about the man who lived there and that a tenant occupied a basement apartment.

Firefighters initially placed two hose lines at the rear of the house, while additional crews entered to search for the occupant. They found the basement heavily involved in flames, which had spread to the upper floor through the basement door, which had been left ajar. They located the victim six feet from the front door and removed him from the house shortly before the first floor collapsed into the basement.

Investigators spoke to the basement tenant, who was not home at the time of the fire. He confirmed that several power strips were being used to power multiple electrical appliances, such as a microwave, a computer, and a television, that occasionally tripped the circuits when used. The investigators determined that the fire started in the basement, but could not determine the exact ignition sequence.

The home, which was valued $103,000, and its contents, valued at $20,000, were destroyed.

MANUFACTURING

Sprinklers halt fire in commercial building

NEW JERSEY—Eight sprinklers operated to control a fire that began on an exterior wall of a commercial building that contained light manufacturing and a warehouse.

Three-quarters of the wood-frame building, which covered 40,000 square (3,421 square meters), was two stories high, while the other quarter was one story high. Its walls were made of concrete block, and its wood roof deck was covered with a built-up asphalt surface. A wet-pipe sprinkler system monitored by a central station alarm company provided coverage.

The occupants of the building discovered the fire in a pile of discarded cardboard placed against an exterior wall of the one-story section of the building and tried to extinguish it with portable fire extinguishers before calling 911 at 2:30 p.m.

By the time firefighters arrived, the fire had spread up the wall and through the built-up roof, and ignited the contents of the building, causing the sprinklers to activate.

Investigators were unable to determine how the cardboard ignited.

The building, valued at $4.3 million, sustained damage estimated at $500,000. Damage to its contents was estimated at $200,000. Three firefighters suffered heat exhaustion, and a police officer sustained smoke inhalation injuries.

Fire damages commercial bakery

CALIFORNIA—A wet-pipe sprinkler system controlled a fire in a cooler at a commercial bagel bakery until firefighters arrived to extinguish it.

The two-story bakery, which covered an area of approximately 100,000 square feet (9,290 meters), had concrete walls and a built-up roof surface. Inside the cooler, which was 25 feet (8 meters) in diameter and 13 feet (4 meters) high, were a series of plastic conveyor belts that carried freshly baked bagels around the structure to cool them. The cooler was not in use at the time of the fire, and its electrical power had been disconnected. The building’s wet-pipe sprinkler system had a water flow alarm connected to a fire alarm system monitored by a central station alarm company.

An employee discovered the fire around 5:15 a.m. and activated a manual pull station. This was followed by several automatic alarms that alerted the company’s 25 employees, who safely evacuated. By the time firefighters arrived, the entire building was filled with smoke, and water from the sprinkler had cooled the atmosphere, making visibility difficult. The ladder companies vented the roof, removing skylights, and helped direct hose streams to a section of burning roof material.

Investigators discovered that a ceiling-mounted halogen or metal halide light fixture over the cooler failed and caused hot debris to rain down on the cooler’s plastic conveyor belts, which ignited and failed, falling to the bottom of the tower.

Damage to the building was estimated at $50,000. Damage to its contents was estimated $100,000.

MERCANTILE

Mercantile building burns in suspicious fire

NEW HAMPSHIRE—A multi-tenant, mixed construction mercantile building sustained losses estimated at $1.5 million, although the efforts of firefighters and fire separations between the occupancies helped prevent more severe fire damage.

The single-story building was occupied by a commercial laundry, a roller-skating rink, an electrical supply company, and three retail stores. It was originally built in the 1940s and had been added onto in the 1970s. The older portion of the building, which was being demolished so the structure could be renovated, had concrete block walls, a wooden floor deck over a crawl space, and a wood-truss roof. The building’s ceiling was 20 feet (6 meters) high, but wood-frame mezzanines had been created in some sections, lowering the ceiling in those areas. The larger, newer section of the structure had concrete block walls, with steel, open-web trusses and a metal deck roof covered by rubber membrane. A monitored fire detection system included heat detectors, manual pull stations, and some smoke detectors. There were no sprinklers.

The fire alarm system activated at 2:31 a.m., and responding firefighters saw heavy smoke coming from the building. The first-arriving officer established command and ordered a second alarm, while engine companies established a water supply for the master streams and large-diameter hose lines.
Firefighters tried to limit fire spread to internal exposures, but once the roof failed about 15 minutes into the operation, they began a defensive attack with exterior hose streams. They finally managed to extinguish the fire some 13 hours later.

Although investigators could not determine the cause of the fire, they considered it suspicious. It started in one of the stores at the rear of the older building and spread into the skating rink and the electrical supply company at the front of the structure, burning for some time before it managed to activate heat detectors on the bottom cord of the truss.

Although the separations between the building’s occupancies helped limit fire spread, damage to the structure, which was valued at $1 million, was estimated at $900,000. Damage to its contents, valued at $750,000, was estimated at $500,000.

One killed, one injured in underground tank fire

NEW HAMPSHIRE—A 24-year-old man died and another man was injured when a broken light started a fire in an underground tank in which they were working. The storage tank, located at a combination gas station and quick mart, was 12 feet (4 meters) long, 6 feet (2 meters) wide, and 7 feet (2 meters) high.
The men were among four employees of a company that had been hired to reline the metal tank with fiberglass. Three of them had climbed down the ladder into the tank through an opening 22 inches (56 centimeters) wide, while the fourth stayed outside with a tripod and knot ropes if needed for exit.

The men were using a power roller to apply the fiberglass when one of them climbed out of the tank, unintentionally dislodging a work light that fell into the tank and broke, igniting the flammable adhesive on the power roller. One of the men still in the tank was able to climb out with his clothing on fire, which the fourth man immediately put out using a fire extinguisher.

He then emptied a second extinguisher into the tank before putting on a respirator and climbing into the tank using the knotted rope, as the ladder had fallen into the tank. Finding his co-worker burned and unconscious, he placed a harness on him and connected him to the tripod, rushing to get the injured man out before the tripod mechanism jammed.

Several people on the ground helped the injured man out of the tank and called the fire department at 1:04 p.m. Firefighters arrived six minutes later to provide emergency medical aid. The two men who had been in the tank were taken to the local hospital; the victim was later transferred to a burn center, where he succumbed to his injuries.

STORAGE

Sprinklers control fire in large warehouse

SOUTH CAROLINA—Sprinklers controlled a fire in the warehouse of a company that produced pet food until firefighters arrived to extinguish it.

The single-story, steel-frame commercial building, which covered 33,868 square feet (3,146 square meters), had concrete block walls and a metal roof covered by a built-up roof surface. A wet-pipe sprinkler system protected the product storage area, but the building was not equipped with a fire detection system.

The fire department received the alarm at 7:10 p.m. after a security guard called his supervisor to report the fire. When firefighters arrived three minutes later, they found light smoke coming from the front of the building and heavy smoke coming from the rear.

As engine companies began to stretch hose lines for an interior attack, force open the exterior bay doors, and evaluate the roof, the incident commander ordered a second alarm. Once inside the building, fire crews extinguished the blaze in the storage area, which had been contained by several sprinklers.

Investigators noted that the fire started in the product storage area, but they could not determine what caused it.

The building, which was valued at $1 million, sustained damages of just $500, although the fire destroyed $1 million dollars of pet product. Three firefighters suffered overexertion and strain injuries during the suppression and overhaul efforts.

KEN TREMBLAY for NFPA Journal.