Author(s): Richard Campbell. Published on October 1, 2016.

Sprinklerwatch

Home fire sprinkler saves, from NFPA files

BY RICHARD CAMPBELL

Garage sprinkler activates when charging batteries overheat

ARIZONA—Damage was contained when a sprinkler in a residential garage activated and discharged water on a fire that began when batteries overheated as they were being recharged on a workbench. A resident finished extinguishing the remains of the fire with a garden hose before firefighters arrived following a 911 call by a neighbor.

The resident was inside her house at approximately 12:50 p.m. when the neighbor alerted her that smoke was coming from the garage. As the resident investigated, she saw a thick layer of black smoke inside the garage and extending out an open garage door, with flames approximately 3 ½ feet high coming from a workbench along one of the walls. She went to get a garden hose while the neighbor called 911.

The resident reported to firefighters that as she was retrieving the garden hose, she heard the automatic sprinkler alarm bell sounding and saw the black smoke turn white as the flames shrunk to six inches or a foot. She could see a single sprinkler head discharging water as the smoke cleared, and she then doused the remaining fire with the hose.

Investigators determined that the resident’s husband was charging model airplane batteries on the workbench while he was in the backyard of the residence. As the batteries overheated, they resulted in a fire that ignited the workbench and combustibles situated on top of it. The fire spread upward until the upper hot convective gas layer came in contact with the sprinkler located above the bench, activating the sprinkler’s water flow.

Damage from the fire was contained to the backboard and contents of the workbench. Investigators indicated that there was minimal water damage from the sprinkler discharge and extinguishment.

News reports estimated the damages at $1,000 and placed the value of the building and contents at over $600,000.

Home sprinklers snuff fire in water heater closet

ARIZONA— A single sprinkler extinguished a fire in a single-family house that had been heavily damaged by fire 10 years earlier and rebuilt with home fire sprinklers. The one-story, wood-frame dwelling also had smoke alarms in the bedrooms, but the sprinkler extinguished the fire before they could operate.

The homeowner smelled smoke and investigated, but she could not find the source until the sprinkler activated. She called 911 at 11 p.m., and firefighters arrived seven minutes later.

Investigators determined that a protective cover plate for the pilot on the home’s gas-fired water heater was not in place and that heat emanating from it ignited a straw broom stored nearby. Fire damaged the broom and the vacuum cleaner in the water heater closet before the 155°F pendent head operated.

The house and its contents, valued at $300,000, sustained $1,000 in damage.

Sprinkler controls fire started by child playing with lighter

ARIZONA—A four-year-old boy playing with a lighter ignited clothing in a closet in his two-family home. Heat from the fire activated a home sprinkler, which extinguished the flames before they spread throughout the house.

Each unit of the one-story, wood-frame dwelling covered approximately 1,500 square feet (139 square meters). The bedrooms and hallways were equipped with smoke detectors, and wet-pipe sprinklers protected the entire structure.

The home’s smoke detectors sounded at 3:12 p.m., alerting an unidentified occupant, who called 911. Upon arrival, firefighters noted light smoke coming from the house and discovered the remains of the fire in the closet.

Sprinkler extinguishes garage fire in single-family home

ARIZONA—A single sprinkler extinguished a fire that investigators believe started when a child’s plastic table ignited in the first-floor garage of a single-family home.

The one-story wood-frame house was equipped with smoke alarms and NFPA 13D wet-pipe sprinklers that provided coverage in all the living areas and the garage.

The fire department received the alarm at 11:52 a.m., and firefighters responded to find smoke coming from the garage. The fire had already been extinguished by one sprinkler head. They checked the attic for fire extension and found none.

The child’s 19-year-old sister told investigators that she heard the sprinkler flow alarm go off, looked in the garage, and saw that it was full of black smoke. She then noticed that the toy table had melted, and she moved it outside into the yard.

The house, valued at $150,000, and its contents, valued at $50,000, sustained losses estimated at $100.

Sprinklers extinguish fan fire in vacant home

ARIZONA—A fan left on in a vacant home caught fire in the middle of the night, but the residence’s sprinklers activated and extinguished the fire, which was said to cause minimal smoke and water damage.

A neighbor summoned the fire department after he was awakened by an exterior water flow bell at approximately 2:27 a.m. and saw that the house was full of smoke. Two fire departments responded to the alarm, but the fire was out by the time crews arrived at the scene.

Crews shut off water, shut power down at the breaker, and unplugged the fan. An engine crew secured the scene because the home’s owner was not present.

News coverage reported that the fire damage was minimal, with the homeowner remarking that things would have been much worse without the home’s sprinkler system and that he now knew that sprinkler systems work.

There was fire damage to an electric fan and a rug underneath the fan but no smoke or fire damage in any rooms other than the bedroom in which the fan was located. According to a newspaper report, the investigators determined that the plastic fan caught fire and then fell to the floor, where it ignited the carpet.

No dollar estimates of damage were available.

Sprinkler extinguishes home cooking fire, limits damage

CALIFORNIA—Firefighters responded to a mid-afternoon house fire and arrived to find light smoke throughout the dwelling and an activated sprinkler head in the kitchen, which had extinguished the fire.

The fire began when a resident left a pot of potatoes cooking on the stove. The fire spread from the stove to an overhead microwave and cabinet before it was extinguished by the sprinkler. Crews shut the sprinklers down and vacuumed up standing water in the residence, then restored the sprinkler system by replacing the single head.

Crews cleared the scene approximately one hour after receiving the alarm at 2:35 p.m.

Damage to the property was estimated at $3,000.

Sprinkler extinguishes garage fire involving bag of charcoal

CALIFORNIA—An automatic detection system dispatched firefighters to an early-morning residential fire, but crews arrived to find that a fire that had ignited in the garage had already been extinguished by an automatic home fire sprinkler.

The residence was a two-story single-family dwelling. The entire structure was protected by automatic wet-pipe sprinklers. The fire originated in a bag of charcoal in a garage on the first floor. The source of ignition was not identified, but the fire activated a local alarm bell that notified the fire department, and one sprinkler head opened and extinguished the fire.

In a local newspaper report, the fire chief cited the incident as an excellent example of how home fire sprinklers can save lives and property.

Total losses from the fire were estimated at $2,000.

Sprinklers control car fire in single-family home’s garage

CALIFORNIA—Two sprinklers in the garage of a single-family home controlled a fire in the engine compartment of a car until firefighters arrived to extinguish it.

The two-story wood-frame house, which covered an area of 2,400 square feet (223 square meters), included hardwired smoke alarms as well as NFPA 13D wet-pipe sprinklers.

The sprinkler’s water flow alarm sounded locally, alerting the home’s occupants, who called 911 at 9:11 p.m. Firefighters arrived 2 minutes later to find that the sprinklers had confined the flames to the vehicle, which was fully involved. They advanced hose lines into the garage to complete extinguishment. The interior of the vehicle was heavily damaged, and the garage sustained some fire and water damage.

Investigators believe that a mechanical failure caused an engine part to overheat and ignite.

The house, valued at $300,000, sustained losses estimated at $8,000, while its contents sustained $3,000 worth of damage.

Trash can fire in garage controlled by single sprinkler

CALIFORNIA—A single sprinkler activated to control a fire that began when ashes in a plastic trash can ignited other combustibles in the can, which was stored in a residential garage. The neighbors heard the alarm and called 911.

The single story wood-frame detached garage, which was 20 feet (6 meters) long and 30 feet (9 meters) wide, included a concrete floor and a basement. The home fire sprinklers were part of an NFPA 13D system that provided coverage for about 600 square feet (55 square meters).

The 911 call came in at 12:13 p.m., and firefighters arrived at the house eight minutes later to find the alarm still operating, smoke showing, and water coming from under the garage door. Once inside, firefighters discovered that the sprinkler had nearly extinguished the fire.

The owner of the house told investigators that friends who were staying over had inadvertently disposed of the ashes in the trash. The area around the trash can and one side of a vehicle parked in the garage suffered some heat damage.

Damage to the structure and its contents was estimated at $2,000 and $3,000, respectively. The fire department report noted that “no doubt the sprinkler played a key role in limiting what would have been a much more extensive fire.”

Sprinkler douses fire started by child playing with lighter

FLORIDA—Firefighters responding to a public assist call for a water leak at a single-family home were notified en route that the alarm company was reporting an operating water flow alarm at the house.

The attached two-story wood-frame townhouse was constructed with concrete block walls, a stucco exterior, and a wood-truss roof covered by plywood and composite shingles. The property was protected by a sprinkler system.

After controlling the sprinkler water flow, a fire department officer noted two areas of burning and contacted investigators, who determined that a child had used a lighter to ignite paper at the living room door leading to the garage.

The boy said that he tried to use the contents of a plastic sports drink bottle to extinguish the flames, thinking it was water, but that the fire had come back at him, burning his hand. The boy’s mother had apparently been painting and put acetone in the plastic container.

The flash fire, which spread to an interior door as well as to the adjacent wall, generated a sufficient amount of heat to activate the sprinkler and sound an external water flow alarm, allowing the family to evacuate safely.

Water did $500 in structural damage to the house, which was valued at $82,000. Its contents, valued at $10,000, sustained an estimated loss of $1,000.

Fire in malfunctioning microwave controlled by sprinklers

ARIZONA—A fire that began inside a malfunctioning microwave oven was almost completely extinguished by an automatic home fire sprinkler before firefighters arrived at the scene of the incident, following a 911 call from a resident of the single-family home.

The community’s fire chief indicated in news reports that the sprinkler operated as designed and that firefighting crews only had to put a small amount of water on the fire to complete extinguishment.

Reports indicated that the resident discovered the fire when he heard crackling from the microwave and saw smoke, then opened the oven door to discover a burning wire. He was instructed to evacuate the house upon making his call to 911.

The house was a single-story structure with a ground floor area covering 1,500 square feet (139 square meters). The house was constructed with a wood frame and walls and a wood roof frame and deck. The home was protected by an NFPA 13D sprinkler system.

The fire caused an estimated $10,000 in damage to the house, valued at $200,000, and $10,000 in damage to its contents, which were valued at $60,000.

Electrical fire in garage controlled by sprinklers

MARYLAND—A single-family house was spared significant damage when a fire that started in the garage activated a sprinkler system in the living areas of the residence.

The two-story wood-frame house, which covered an area of 1,250 square feet (111 square meters), was equipped with wet-pipe sprinklers that provided coverage in all of the dwelling’s living areas.

An employee of a carpet cleaning service who saw the fire notified the homeowners, who called 911 at 9:30 a.m. before evacuating without incident. Investigators determined that the blaze, which was of undetermined electrical origin, started in the unsprinklered two-car garage at the front of the house.

Property damage to the house and garage was estimated at $60,000. Damage to the contents of the house and garage, which included the destruction of two cars, was also estimated at $60,000.

Sprinkler controls fire in garage started by heat lamp

WASHINGTON—A single sprinkler in a three-car garage attached to a single-family home controlled a fire that started when a heat lamp fell into a chicken brooding pen and ignited wood shavings.

The two-story wood-frame house, which was built in 2005, was equipped with NFPA 13D sprinklers and also included single-station smoke alarms that were located throughout the structure. The sprinklers operated as designed during the incident, as did the fire detection system. The residents were not at home at the time of the fire.

A neighbor called 911 to report the blaze at 3:45 p.m., and arriving firefighters found light, white smoke showing from the garage doors. Once inside, firefighters discovered that a single sprinkler had activated and confined the fire to the garage. When they forced open the front door of the home, they found light smoke inside the house and heard the smoke alarms sounding.

The house, valued at $304,000, sustained $62,000 in damage. Its contents, which were valued at $228,000, sustained an estimated loss of $46,000. There were no injuries. However, a few young chickens died in the fire.

RICHARD CAMPBELL is a senior research analyst at NFPA. Top Photograh: Bret Lucas, Prescott, Arizona, Fire Department