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

STORAGE

Large warehouse fire requires mutual aid response

NEW YORK—Firefighters faced with a warehouse fire completely involved in flames needed the resources of several fire departments to bring the fire under control and prevent its spread to nearby properties.

The warehouse was being used by a wooden pallet company and was occupied by only a few employees at the time of the fire. The three-story building covered an area of 16,000 square feet per floor and was of heavy timber construction with rubble stone exterior walls. To one side of the building was attached a series of buildings used by another company. There were no sprinklers and it was not determined if a fire alarm system was present.

The fire department received a report of the fire at approximately 4:10 p.m. Responding firefighters saw fire coming out of east-facing windows and the roof upon arrival two minutes later. Command immediately called for additional support from nearby communities, including several engines, ladders, and a hazardous material response team.

The incident commander quickly ordered exterior operations, as well as a collapse zone around the building. A secondary water supply using several fire pumpers was needed to pump a large diameter fire hose from a canal nearly a mile away to support several aerial master streams.

In addition, a hazmat crew was summoned because the fire threatened a chemical storage facility located next to the warehouse. The incident commander directed the position of fire apparatus to prevent fire spread to the storage facility. All chemicals were safely removed from the storage facility and stored away from the structure, and police ordered a shelter-in-place for all residents within one-half mile of the fire. Nearly four hours after the incident began, command started to release some of the fire companies to their communities. The fire smoldered until the next day, when the remains of the building were demolished.

Investigators spoke with occupants of the building who stated they were using mechanical equipment on the third floor, which caused a spark that ignited dust, fiber, or lint.

The fire caused an estimated $200,000 damage to the property and $75,000 to its contents.

RESIDENTIAL

Elderly man dies in fire fueled by black powder

TEXAS—A fire of unknown origin began near the front entryway of a single-family dwelling and quickly spread to interior portions of the home, consuming interior contents and building materials. As the fire spread into adjoining bedrooms from the entry hall, it ignited stored explosives, including black powder and ammunition. The fire progressed very rapidly and ignited an exterior gas meter located on the same side of the home as the victim, which further intensified the fire.

The single-story , wood-frame structure was 40 feet long and 30 feet wide and had a wooden roof covered by asphalt shingles. The structure did not have smoke alarms or sprinklers.

The occupant, a man in his eighties with a mobility disability that confined him to a wheel chair, called 911 at 11:23 p.m. He died of smoke inhalation and burns.

The fire destroyed the home. The incident report did not provide a value for the building or contents.

Couple dies in manufactured home fire

SOUTH CAROLINA—A husband and wife died of smoke inhalation in a fire in their manufactured home. Both victims were found in escaping positions.

The house, which was 76 feet long by 32 feet wide, was constructed of wood framing over a steel frame, with metal wall and roof coverings. The home had battery-operated smoke alarms, but there were no sprinklers. Firefighters found a fire extinguisher near the area of origin, and investigators determined that the husband used it to try to control the fire.

The occupants called 911 at 2:38 a.m. and were connected to the dispatcher, who heard the victims coughing and the smoke alarm operating. When they arrived, firefighters found the 59-year-old husband by the front door with thermal burns and smoke inhalation. His 56-year-old wife was found by the master bathroom overcome by smoke. Both victims were removed from the house, but neither survive.

Investigators determined that the fire started near the kitchen and spread to other areas of the home. However, they were not able to determine what provided the heat or material for ignition.

The husband apparently discovered the fire first and attempted to control it without success. The woman who was trying to escape may have opened a door where the fire was burning and inhaled super-heated air.

The building, valued at $50,000, sustained $25,000 in damage. Its contents were destroyed.

Mother killed, daughter injured in fast-moving house fire

VIRGINIA—One woman died and another was hurt in a fire in their home.

The single-family, three-story, wood-frame house, which was 40 feet long and 25 feet wide, had a wooden roof covered with asphalt shingles. The smoke alarms located on the first- and second-floor hallways operated as designed. There were no sprinklers.

Occupants of the home discovered a fire burning on the porch. The evening before, the occupants and several others were smoking outside the home on an exterior porch, and a flower pot containing organic material was being used as an ash tray. After the occupants went to bed, fire started on the porch and extended up the siding to the porch ceiling and the front of the house before being detected by a passerby, who called 911 at 2:14 a.m.

Several occupants made it to the first floor and evacuated out a rear door as smoke alarms activated. One occupant reentered the home to gather a baby, his wife, and her mother. He met them on the second floor and grabbed the baby, and his wife said that she and her mother would be right behind him. Before they could evacuate, however, a first-floor window failed, allowing heat and smoke to quickly spread and trapping the two women on the second floor.

The women, ages 27 and 61, decided to exit from a second-floor window. The younger woman fell from the window, sustaining smoke inhalation and traumatic injuries, but survived. Despite her injured daughter and others calling out to her, the older woman would not climb out the window. She succumbed to smoke inhalation and thermal burn injuries inside the structure. All other occupants safely escaped and were not injured.

The house, which was valued at $200,000, and its contents, valued at $100,000, were destroyed.

Transient man fatally injured in garage fire

SOUTH DAKOTA—Firefighters overhauling a detached garage that had collapsed during a fire discovered the body of a 54-year-old man in the debris. The structure, which had no power, was used to store furniture, automotive supplies, and mattresses.

The single-story structure was 30 feet long by 20 feet wide. Constructed of wood framing, the garage was detached from the house and located near a street. There were no smoke alarms or sprinklers.

A passerby saw smoke and flames coming from the garage and called 911 at 11:15 p.m. Firefighters arrived seven minutes later to find fire coming from a window at the rear of the garage and heavy, dark smoke coming from other openings. The roof collapsed during fire attack.

Investigators were unable to determine the ignition sequence or the area of origin. The victim was in the garage without the owner’s knowledge, and it was unknown how long he had been there. The victim, who died of smoke inhalation, was found to have a high blood alcohol level.

The structure and its contents, valued at $17,000, were destroyed.

Smoking while on home oxygen blamed for woman’s death

SOUTH CAROLINA—A 69-year-old woman with a respiratory impairment died as a result of a fire that started when she was smoking while using home oxygen.

The fire occurred in a one-story, single-family dwelling covering an area of 1,400 square feet. The exterior walls of the wood-frame house were covered by brick and vinyl siding, and the roof was covered with asphalt shingles. There were no sprinklers.

The woman was the only occupant in the home at the time of the fire. Her husband returned home and called 911 to report the fire at 10:02 a.m.

Firefighters arrived seven minutes later to find light smoke coming from the house. Engine companies stretched a hose line into the bedroom to extinguish a mattress that was still burning and to ventilate the room. They found the victim sitting on the floor next to a bed near a window.

Investigators determined that the victim was smoking while receiving home oxygen therapy via a nasal cannula. Fire resulting from the accelerated combustion spread to her clothing and bedding. The victim either attempted to get out of bed or roll off onto the floor. The closed bedroom door prevented smoke and fire from spreading into the remainder of the house. Hardwired smoke alarms with battery backup operated as designed during the fire.

The home was valued at $110,000, and its contents at $40,000. Losses were estimated at $10,000 for the building and $5,000 for the contents.

Woman and boy die in house fire

SOUTH CAROLINA—A 59-year-old woman and a nine-year-old boy died in a fire that heavily damaged their entire manufactured home.

The single-story, wood-frame house was 40 feet long and 27 feet wide. Smoke alarms were located on a vaulted ceiling 23 inches from the peak, as well as outside the bedrooms. However, operation of the alarms could not be determined. There were no sprinklers.

The surviving occupant called 911 at 12:33 a.m., and the fire department arrived nine minutes later to find the building fully involved in fire.

An engine company took a hose line to the rear of the house and entered a bedroom that appeared tenable. Occupants were reported to be trapped inside, but firefighters were unable to locate them before their air supply ran out. A defensive operation took place until the heavy fire was knocked down.

Firefighters found the two victims in a front-facing bedroom, the woman on the bed and the boy on the floor next to the bed. Investigators determined that the fire started in a third bedroom opposite the room in which the victims were found. The cause of the fire remained under investigation at the time the fire department submitted its report.

The house was heavily damaged, although estimates of damage were not provided.

One killed, two injured in manufactured home fire

ARIZONA—One person died and two were injured when a fire that began in a bedroom spread to the remainder of a manufactured home.

The fire occurred in a single-family manufactured home covering an area of 1,250 square feet. The single-story home had porches and decks installed on three sides of the building after placement of the building on the lot. A wooden wheelchair ramp extended from the house to grade. A smoke alarm was present in the hallway and activated during the fire. There were no sprinklers.

A 52-year-old man with a mobility disability slept in a hospital bed in the living room of the home near the kitchen. Two other occupants, including the man’s 43-year-old male caregiver and the caregiver’s girlfriend, were using two bedrooms located at one end of the home. The home’s owner discovered the fire at 11:23 p.m., when he yelled for help and called 911.

His caregiver awoke to his screams and entered the hallway to see his girlfriend standing in front of her bedroom, where the fire was located. He told her to follow him as he proceeded to successfully remove the man with the mobility disability from the home. The victim did not exit the house as the fire progressed. She was later found by firefighters in one of the closets of the bedroom. It was determined she succumbed to smoke inhalation. The two male occupants suffered smoke inhalation injuries and one also received minor burn injuries.

Fire investigators were able to confirm that the fire started in the bedroom where they found the woman’s body. However, they were not able to determine the exact cause of ignition. Investigators did note that the victim had a blood-alcohol level of 0.327, which may have been a contributing factor in her death.

The house, valued at $121,400, and its contents, valued at $84,980, were a total loss.

Man dies when clothes ignite in kitchen fire

VIRGINIA—A man who was reheating leftovers in his kitchen died when his clothing ignited.

The fire occurred in a two-story, owner-occupied, single family dwelling that was divided into two units. The building was constructed of wood framing, with an exterior of wood and brick veneer. The dimensions of the home were not reported. Only the base of a smoke alarm was present, and no detectors were found in the home. There were no sprinklers.

Investigators determined that the victim was intoxicated when he returned home and tried to reheat some food. When his clothing ignited, he tried to extinguish the flames and ran to his roommate’s room, banging on the door. The roommate was initially scared when he opened his door and closed it again, but then reopened it and led the victim to the bathroom tub, where firefighters found him.

Fire spread in the house was minimal, with damages estimated at $8,000. The victim, whose age was not reported, died of his injuries, including smoke inhalation and burns.

Boy dies after starting fire in bedroom closet

PENNSYLVANIA—A 10-year-old boy died after becoming trapped on an upper level of his family’s house by a fire he set in a bedroom closet.

The single-family, three-story dwelling where the fire occurred was constructed of wood framing, with a brick exterior and asphalt shingle roof. The house, which was 40 feet long and 15 feet wide, had smoke alarms on each level but none had batteries.There were no sprinklers.

An occupant of the house called 911 to report the fire at 4:28 p.m. and firefighters arrived within minutes to extinguishe the blaze.

Investigators determined that the victim used a lighter to ignite combustibles in a second-floor bedroom closet and then climbed the stairs to the third floor. The fire spread throughout the room and traveled up the stairwell to the third floor, where it blocked his exit. He died of burns.

The house, valued at $25,000, had losses estimated at $10,000. Its contents, valued at $10,000, sustained losses of $2,000.

Unattended cooking fire kills one

NEW YORK—One person died in an apartment fire that started when unattended cooking materials ignited a stove fire in a kitchen.

The apartment was located on the second floor of a two-story dwelling. Two additional apartments existed on the first floor. The building, which had previously been a single-family home, was constructed of wood framing and was 30 feet long and 35 feet wide. Smoke and carbon monoxide alarms were located on each level, including the basement. There were no sprinklers.

An occupant in one of the first-floor apartments could hear the smoke alarm operating in the upstairs unit and called 911 to report a fire. He went upstairs and banged on the door of the second-floor apartment to alert the occupant, but had to abandon his efforts to return downstairs to his family and escape the burning structure.

Firefighters entered the second-floor apartment and found fire at the ceiling leading to the kitchen, which they extinguished. The body of the victim, a 56-year-old man, was discovered nearby and brought to the first floor, where it was determined he was deceased. His injuries were not specified.

Investigators found a pan of oil had ignited on an operating electric stove and started the fire. Failure of the windows, along with gusty winds, increased the intensity of the fire on the second floor.

The building was valued at $64,239 and its contents at $20,000. Total losses were estimated at $25,000.

Modified power cord blamed for fatal fire

MISSOURI—A modified power cord was blamed for a residential fire that killed two people in their three-story, single-family home.

The house, which was 50 feet long and 30 feet wide, was constructed of wood framing with an asphalt shingle roof and exterior walls covered with a brick veneer. Battery-operated smoke alarms were located on each floor. There were no sprinklers.

A passerby reported the house fire at 6 p.m. Firefighters discovered an 80-year-old woman and a 62-year-old man inside, both dead of smoke inhalation and burns. Their location in the home was not reported.

Investigators determined that an electric space heater power cord had been modified and spliced with a longer power cord, and was operating in a first-floor dining room. The splice showed beading to the copper wiring at the splice. An arc at the splice caused a fire to ignite and spread.

Damages were not reported.

Fire in assisted living home claims lives of two residents

CALIFORNIA—Two women died in a fire in a single-family house that was being used as a residence for adults with cognitive disabilities.
The one-story, wood-frame building, which was 63 feet long and 40 feet wide, had a stucco exterior. Battery-operated smoke alarms had been installed in the bedrooms and hallway. There were no sprinklers.

The fire started on the bed in the caretaker’s bedroom, when a fault in an electrical device ignited paper and a bedspread. A smoke alarm sounded in the room and alerted the caretaker, who was cooking breakfast. She placed a wet towel over the flames on the bed and, thinking she had extinguished the fire, left the room.
Several minutes later, the smoke alarms sounded again, and the caretaker assumed they were the result of residual smoke. However, the fire had reignited and spread to nearby combustibles, then out of the room into a hallway and garage.

The caretaker called 911 and was trying to reenter the building when the fire department arrived.

The two victims, a 53-year-old woman and a 46-year-old woman, were asleep and did not respond to the alarm. Both died of smoke inhalation. One firefighter received a burn injury.

Damage to the structure, the value of which was not reported, was estimated at $250,000. Damage to its contents was estimated at $125,000.

Garage fire damages home

MINNESOTA—A fire that began when a hair dryer was used to heat the engine of a snow-blower resulted in heavy damage to a home.

The one-story, single-family dwelling covered an area of 1,500 square feet and was constructed of wood framing. Smoke alarms were located within the structure and operated once smoke reached the living area. There were no sprinklers.

The homeowner had placed a hair dryer under a nylon tarp in an effort to heat the engine of a snow-blower that would not start. While checking on its progress, the owner found the hair dryer on fire and called 911 at 3:48 p.m. Firefighting crews on arrival found the attached garage portion of the home on fire, with the blaze spreading to interior portions of the dwelling. It appeared as if the door between the garage and the home had been left open, allowing the fire to spread to the home’s interior.

Firefighters advanced a hose line into the garage, but were forced back by intense heat as the fire consumed a vehicle and stored materials. An aerial master stream was needed to knock down the fire in the garage. Firefighters operating inside the home were able to stop the fire in the kitchen area.

An investigation of the garage found that an electric-powered vehicle, as well as a propane tank that was connected to but not operating a portable heater, may have contributed to the intensity of the fire. Vapors from the vehicle’s batteries and the venting propane tank allowed the fire to burn intensely. All occupants of the home escaped unharmed.

Damages to the house were estimated at $75,000, and damages to its contents were estimated at $40,000.

Electrical box fire blamed for home fire death

MINNESOTA—A woman died and a man was injured in a home fire that is thought to have started in an electrical box in their kitchen.

The one-story, single-family, wood-frame house had battery-operated smoke alarms but no sprinklers.

When an operating smoke alarm alerted the husband to a fire burning in the kitchen, he tried to use the telephone, but fournd that it was not operating. He then returned to the bedroom, where he called 911 to report the fire at 12:50 a.m.

Arriving firefighters entered the home, which had been remodeled with an irregular layout that made it difficult for crews to fight the fire, and found that smoke from a fire in the electrical box in the kitchen had spread throughout the structure. After breaking through a glass enclosure, one firefighter entered the victim’s bedroom window and handed her to a second firefighter, but she had already succumbed to smoke inhalation injuries. They managed to rescue her 75-year-old husband, who had gotten stuck while trying to escape through a bedroom window.

The building was valued at $50,000. Damage estimates were not reported.

Four killed in house fire

TEXAS—Investigators were unable to pinpoint the cause of a house fire that claimed four lives.

The interior walls of the one-story, single-family, wood-frame home were of mixed wood paneling and drywall. Building dimensions were not reported, but the home included three bedrooms, a living room, a dining room, a kitchen, and a bathroom. There were no sprinklers.

The fire was discovered by neighbors, who called 911 at 11:40 p.m. Firefighters found portions of the home well involved in fire, with the area of origin in a bedroom at the rear of the home. It appeared that several of the occupants had attempted to escape, but smoke conditions and stored contents within the home prevented them from evacuating safely. All four occupants, two children and two adults, died from exposure to thermal products of combustion.

Firefighters found a 12-year-old girl in the hallway leading to the kitchen and a six-year-old girl entangled in an extension cord in one of the bedrooms. The location of the two adults, a 69-year-old man and a 61-year-old woman, was not reported.

Investigators found numerous electrical extension cords plugged into outlets throughout the house, powering heaters, appliances, televisions, and electronics. In many cases, the cords were plugged into adapters powering multiple devices. However, the extensive damage prevented investigators from determining the cause of the fire.

A battery-operated smoke alarm, without batteries, was found on a living room table.

The amount of property damage was not reported.

Woman dies in home fire started by electrical arc

WISCONSIN—A woman with a mobility disability died in a house fire started by an arc in an electrical receptacle in her one-story home.

The single-family, wood-frame home, which was 36 feet long and 25 feet wide, had smoke alarms in the first-floor hallway and basement.

A passerby discovered the fire and called 911 at 8 a.m. Firefighters arrived and discovered the body of the victim, who had died of smoke inhalation. The report did not state where the victim was found or her age.

Investigators found that an electrical arc had occurred in a living room receptacle, melting part of a transformer plugged into it. The arc and flames ignited curtains hanging over the receptacle, and the fire spread to plastic window blinds. Flames spread to other contents, heavily damaging the living room and sending smoke and heat throughout the house.

The home, valued at $100,000, sustained $15,000 in damage. The contents, valued at $20,000, sustained $5,000 in damage.

EDUCATIONAL

Sprinkler controls fire in school

MINNESOTA—A single sprinkler controlled and extinguished a fire on the stage of a high school auditorium. Activation of a smoke detector and water flow alarm quickly brought the fire department to the scene and evacuated the building.

The three-story high school was 120 feet long by 160 feet wide and had concrete block walls. The facility was protected by a fire detection system that was monitored by a central station alarm company and a wet-pipe sprinkler system with a monitored water flow alarm.

The fire department received the alarm at 12:31 p.m., and firefighters arrived at the scene two minutes later. After checking the fire panel, the incident commander went to the auditorium, where he saw smoke banking down to the seating area. An engine company found the burned remains of curtains on the floor, the fire having been extinguished by a sprinkler.

An investigation found that an operating halogen light fixture had ignited a nearby curtain.

Damage to the school, which was valued at $20 million, was estimated at $10,000. There were no injuries.

ASSEMBLY

Portable heaters blamed for stadium fire

MICHIGAN—Portable electric heaters being used to heat a luxury box at a baseball stadium that was being renovated were blamed for a mulitmillion dollar fire.

The lower section of the concrete and wood-framed stadium included general seating, locker rooms, and mechanical areas, while the upper section included staff offices, concession stands, and luxury seats. The stadium was equipped with a fire detection system monitored by a central station alarm company, and a pre-action sprinkler system had been installed throughout the park.

Contractors removing carpeting and cabinets from the luxury box were called away to fix a frozen pipe elsewhere on the site. Because the outside temperatures were in the single digits, two portable electric space heaters had been brought in to warm the space.

Shortly after the contractors left, office staff began to smell smoke. A fire alarm sounded shortly thereafter, and the fire department was notified at 10:53 a.m. The staff, alerted by the alarm, tried unsuccesfully to control the fire with a portable extinguisher.

Responding fire crews saw light smoke coming from the roof as they pulled up to the scene nine minutes after receiving the alarm and laid 250 feet of hose to the luxury box. However, the flames soon spread to adjacent boxes, and the structure began to collapse onto the concrete seating area below.

Investigators found that one of the portable heaters ignited a wheeled plastic construction cart, and the fire spread to other combustibles in the luxury box. The sprinklers over the fire failed to operate, even though they activated. The fire department report gave no reason for the failure.

Together, damage to the structure and its contents was estimated at $7.5 million. One firefighter was hurt.

KEN TREMBLAY for NFPA Journal.