Author(s): Richard Campbell. Published on May 2, 2016.

RESIDENTIAL

Resident escapes, but mother perishes in home fire

PENNSYLVANIA—One resident escaped, but another was killed in a fast-moving house fire that originated in a second-floor bedroom.

Firefighters responded to a 911 call at 8 a.m. to find a fully involved fire in a two-story, single-family dwelling. Outside the house, a male resident informed firefighters that his mother was still inside. According to newspaper reports, crews made initial efforts to enter the house, but were driven back by high heat and heavy fire conditions.

Officials said that the structure began to collapse within 10 minutes of the fire department’s arrival.

The male resident told newspapers that he woke up to his dog’s barking and saw smoke and flames in the hall outside his bedroom. He jumped down to an attached porch roof through his bedroom window, where a neighbor who had already called 911 helped him to the ground.

The victim was found by the kitchen door, where she was apparently trying to escape, according to news reports.

Investigators determined that the fire started in the victim’s upstairs rear bedroom but they were unable to identify the cause. The two-story structure had a ground-floor area of 900 square feet (274 square meters) and was constructed with a wood frame and roof deck, with asphalt shingles. It was not equipped with smoke alarms.

The house and contents, which were collectively valued at $53,000, were a total loss.

Woman dies in house fire ignited by natural gas explosion

TEXAS—An undetermined heat source ignited a natural gas leak in the kitchen of a single-family home, triggering a fire that killed a female resident.

A passerby alerted firefighters at 4:30 p.m. and the first units to arrive reported heavy smoke and fire coming from the front and one side of the house. One crew immediately attacked the fire from the front of the house, while another began treating the home’s occupant, who had managed to evacuate the house, but received burn injuries while making her escape.

Incident command declared a defensive operation when it became apparent that the intensity of the fire precluded an interior attack. Crews laid supply lines and performed suppression tactics while two firefighters assisted in transporting the victim to the hospital. Newspaper reports indicated that the victim was flown to a burn center for treatment but died in the hospital later that day.

Based on fire intensity and travel patterns, investigators determined that the fire was concentrated in the kitchen, where they noted that the stove was out of its normal position and a gas supply line was not connected. No ignition source was identified, but the investigation determined that the natural gas explosion was due to an open gas valve.

The house, a single-story structure with an area of 1,200 square feet (366 square meters), suffered extensive damage, including partial roof collapse. The house and contents, valued at approximately $58,000, were a total loss.

Smoking materials blamed for apartment fire that kills tenant

ILLINOIS—One man died in an early morning apartment fire, which started when smoking materials ignited the contents of a waste container in his kitchen and spread to a nearby living area where he was sleeping.

A person in an adjacent three-story apartment building called 911 at 5:43 a.m. when a fire alarm sounded in the neighbor’s building. Firefighters were on the scene within one minute of notification, but investigators estimated that the fire had begun an hour earlier and had gone undetected because batteries had been removed from the apartment’s sole alarm.

The apartment building contained eight apartments on the second and third floors, with retail establishments on the first floor. According to newspaper reports, police evacuated residents while fire crews extinguished the fire and removed the 27-year-old victim, who later died of burn injuries at the hospital.

Investigators determined that the fire in the wastebasket ignited nearby combustibles and spread from the kitchen to the adjacent living area.

The building had a ground floor area of 6,000 square feet (1,829 square meters) and was constructed with a wood frame and brick walls. Each apartment was equipped with one battery-operated smoke alarm, but did not have a sprinkler system.

The fire caused an estimated $150,000 in damage to the building structure, valued at $950,000, and $20,000 in damage to its contents, which had an estimated value of $100,000.

No smoke alarms in house fire that kills mother, daughter

WASHINGTON—A fire began in a basement workbench area and spread through an unprotected stairway to the first and second floors of a single-family home, claiming the lives of a woman and her adult daughter who were trapped on the top floor by fire and heat.

Neighbors heard screams from the house and called 911 at 5 a.m.

The two victims, both found on a stairwell, died from smoke inhalation. A third occupant was also injured, but survived by jumping from a second floor window. According to newspaper reports, two other residents also escaped with the help of quick-acting neighbors, who brought a ladder to the scene and assisted the residents down.

The house did not have smoke alarms or sprinklers and it was not clear how long it had been burning before it was discovered. Investigators could not determine the cause of the fire but noted that working smoke alarms would have changed the outcome.

The one-and-a-half-story house had a total area of 1,837 square feet (560 square meters) and was constructed with a wood frame and asphalt shingles. The house and its contents, valued at $284,000, sustained $270,000 in estimated damages.

Sprinkler extinguishes unattended cooking fire

MASSACHUSETTS—An apartment’s automatic sprinkler system extinguished a midmorning kitchen fire that broke out when a pan filled with cooking oil ignited and spread to overhead cabinets.

The sprinklers had largely extinguished the fire by the time firefighters arrived, according to media reports. Firefighters shut off the electrical power due to possible damage to the electrical system.

Investigators determined that the cause of the fire was unattended cooking. There were no injuries, but the fire displaced two tenants.

The fire caused an estimated $3,000 in damage to the building and $1,000 in damage to the building contents. No information was available on the value of the building or contents.

Elderly couple perishes in early-morning house fire

NORTH CAROLINA—Firefighters dispatched to an early morning fire were advised en route that they were responding to a house fire with occupants still inside the residence.

The first units were on the scene at 2:37 a.m. and found fire showing from a single-story, wood-frame home.

A neighbor, who had unsuccessfully tried to kick a door in, advised firefighters that two elderly occupants were inside, news reports said. Incident command assigned one engine company to establish a water supply and begin fire attack, while members of a ladder company were assigned search and rescue duties.

The rescue team made a forced entry at the front entrance and encountered multiple obstructions from clutter inside the home. Working in moderate heat and heavy smoke conditions, the crews searched rooms as they encountered doorways and progressed through the structure. At the rear of the house, they found the two victims lying on the floor and removed them through a side entrance.

The rescue teams initiated CPR on both victims, a husband and wife, who were not breathing and lacked pulses. Two emergency medical response teams arrived and assumed patient care, while rescue crew members continued to assist with CPR. Responders were able to obtain a pulse from the female, who was taken to the hospital, but discontinued CPR on the male, who was pronounced dead at the scene. The female succumbed to her injuries in the hospital.

Firefighters attacking the fire entered through the front and extinguished a small fire in the room of origin, then checked for extension inside the house. Crews assigned with overhaul and horizontal ventilation extinguished a small fire over a window on the exterior of the house and accessed the attic to confirm that there was no further extension. After completing overhaul and ventilation, they turned the house over to investigators.

Investigators found signs of electrical arcing caused by overloading and overheating of a space heater cord that was plugged into an extension cord. They noted that the prongs were brittle and the extension cord was melted in a line down the cord. They concluded that that the electrical arc ignited bedding and material on the couch and then spread through the room. They also found water running into a bucket in the kitchen sink and believe the male was awakened by the fire and was trying to put it out. The female victim had a mobility disability.

The house was a single-story structure occupying 1,030 square feet (314 square meters). The house was equipped with battery-operated smoke alarms, but it was undetermined whether they operated.

The fire caused an estimated $25,000 in damage to the house, valued at $70,000, and $7,500 in damage to contents, valued at $15,000.

Electrical arc blamed for fatal early-morning house fire

KENTUCKY—A neighbor called 911 after hearing a bang and spotting a fire when he went outside to investigate.

Two sides of the house were heavily involved with fire when fire crews arrived shortly after 3 a.m.

As crews established a water connection, a mutual aid company was summoned to assist with fire control due to the intensity of conditions. Crews used a deck gun and handlines to attack the fire, which grew and spread to an adjacent house that also required extinguishment.

When conditions permitted entry, a rapid intervention team entered the structure and found the body of a male resident in the bedroom.

Investigators determined that an electrical arc in a 125-volt floor receptacle in the living room caused the fire. They were unable to locate any smoke alarms in the house.

The house, which had a ground-floor area of 1,000 square feet (300 square meters), was a total loss, estimated at $70,000 for the property and contents. Damage to the neighboring house was estimated at $5,500.

Smoking materials ignite fire that kills elderly woman

CALIFORNIA—Firefighters responding to a neighbor’s 911 call at 2:50 a.m. arrived to find a working fire in a two-story, single-family dwelling.

The first crews on the scene took a handline to the second floor, where the fire was concentrated, and found a female occupant on the floor in the hallway. She was immediately carried outside for medical treatment, but was pronounced dead at the scene shortly afterward.

Crews completed a primary search of the residence and finished extinguishing the fire, then accessed the roof by ladder and used a chain saw and hand tools to cut a hole for ventilation. The last crews cleared the scene about two hours after arrival.

Investigators determined that the fire originated in an upstairs bedroom, where smoking materials ignited a mattress or pillow, and caused burns and heat damage to the victim as the fire extended to the hallway.

Newspapers reported estimated damage to the house and contents at $150,000.

Resident dies when lightning strike starts house fire

WISCONSIN—An elderly female died when lightning struck an antenna on the roof of her home, which resulted in an electrical arc and started a fire in the living room.

Neighbors called 911 after they saw smoke coming from the house. The department’s chief, who lived nearby, was first on the scene and observed fire venting from a failed picture window at the front of the house and two smaller side windows. He noted that vinyl siding on the exterior was sagging from radiant heat. A police officer on the scene informed the chief that a male resident of the house reported that his wife was still inside the structure. This information was radioed to the emergency dispatch center and incoming units.

With the arrival of the first engine, crews established a water supply and pulled a hose to a first-story window, where they began to apply a water stream. A second hose was pulled to an entryway on the same side of the house, and two firefighters wearing full personal protective equipment and self-contained breathing apparatuses prepared to enter the structure for a rescue attempt. The chief told crews that the victim was last seen in the kitchen area.

When the rescue team entered the house, the lead team member, lying on his stomach, felt his axe handle touch something and crawled forward to find the victim lying face down. The victim was dragged outside where an EMS team examined the victim and pronounced her dead. An autopsy later showed she died of smoke inhalation.

Firefighters extinguished the blaze shortly after 10 a.m., and began salvage and overhaul.

Fire investigators learned that the victim’s husband reported hearing a very loud thunder crack during a storm the previous evening and that the television wasn’t working when he turned it on in the morning. When he went outside to investigate, the husband noticed that a cable was hanging from the home’s television antenna. He then went to the basement and was resetting tripped breakers in the electrical panel when he heard a loud noise from upstairs and found the kitchen full of smoke down to the floor. He called for his wife but exited from the side door when overcome by smoke.

After obtaining lightning strike reports from the state fire control office, investigators concluded that a lightning strike damaged electrical components in the house, causing an electrical fault that started the fire.

The house was a two-story structure with a ground floor measuring 1,088 square feet (332 square meters) and was constructed with a wood frame, roof deck, and asphalt shingles. Damage to the house was estimated at $110,000, with an additional $56,000 in estimated damage to its contents.

Resident dies in early-morning house fire

NORTH CAROLINA—A male resident died in an early morning house fire that presented responding firefighters with multiple challenges.

The fire department was alerted to the fire by a call from the house at 3 a.m.

Police and fire units were delayed at a gated entrance at the bottom of a long drive when there was no response to their initial calls from a call box. To reach the house, which was located in a remote wooded area, crews then had to maneuver their equipment up a steep and narrow drive that included switchbacks.

When crews arrived at the residence, they observed flames venting from the roof on one side of the house, with smoke emitting from an open door at the front entryway. As crews positioned one engine on a front driveway away from the fire to set up attack, a police officer informed incident command that the husband had gone inside the house, which was confirmed by the male resident’s wife, who was in the front yard.

Because no hydrants were in the immediate area, crews initiated a tanker-supplied water supply, and requests were made for additional tankers and personnel from mutual aid companies.

Two hose lines were advanced to the front entrance and charged as preparations were made for a rescue attempt. As additional personnel arrived, three firefighters were assigned to the rescue team, and the fire grew rapidly as they assembled. The team initiated a search with an attack line, starting from the front door and moving to the left toward the fire, using a search rope for safety. Incident command heard what sounded like a window breaking, and fire then shot out of the front door, banking to within a couple feet from the floor. The rescue team was ordered out of the structure and evacuated quickly.

After regrouping, the rescue team made a second attempt to enter, advancing 15 to 20 feet into the structure before intense fire and heat drove them back out.

The rescue team then entered the structure through a side door, with a rapid intervention team positioned at the entrance. As crews attacked the fire from the front entrance, incident command observed fire escaping through a vent at the side where the rescue team had entered, and the team was again ordered to vacate. Fire broke through the roof as team members made their exit. At this point, firefighters began a defensive attack and no further entry efforts were made. Progress in fighting the fire was slowed by the lack water supply. After additional mutual aid tankers arrived, they were tasked with shuttling water from the nearest hydrant to a large tub at the scene, all the while negotiating the narrow driveway, according to news reports. Firefighters fought the fire for several hours before it was brought under control. The body of the victim was found inside the structure.

Due to the extensive damage, investigators could not determine whether the source of ignition was the propane grill, a damaged electrical receptacle, or an electric fire above the pantry.

The victim’s wife told investigators that she was asleep in a first-floor bedroom when her husband called from the second floor to say that there was smoke in the house. After a brief search, they found a fire burning above a propane grill on an outside deck. The wife tried to extinguish the fire with a garden hose, but told her husband to call 911 after part of a wood awning fell down and revealed that a large fire was burning above the grill and extending into the residence. After abandoning efforts to extinguish the fire and exiting the house, the wife went back inside to retrieve a pet while her husband was on the phone with 911. When she returned outside, she saw her husband re-entering the house.

The two-story house covered a ground floor area of nearly 5,700 square feet (1,733 square meters). It was constructed with a heavy timber wood frame, with wood and rock walls and cedar shingles. The house was protected by electric smoke alarms with battery backup, but had no sprinkler system.

The fire caused $1.25 million in damage to the house, valued at $1.5 million, and $175,000 in damage to contents, valued at $250,000.

Woman dies in fire ignited by smoking materials on porch

VIRGINIA—Smoking materials deposited in a flowerpot on a house porch caused an overnight fire that destroyed a three-story house and took the life of a 61-year-old female resident.

A passerby called 911 just after 2 a.m., but the house was engulfed in flames by the time firefighters arrived, according to newspaper reports.

It was unclear how long the fire had been burning before it was detected. Residents of the home and guests had congregated on the front porch earlier in the evening, where several people were smoking and deposited smoking materials in a flowerpot. During the night, the smoking materials ignited a dried plant in the flowerpot, and the resulting fire extended up the exterior side of the house into the porch roof, investigators found.

Six people were in the three-story home when the fire broke out. After the occupants had gone to bed, one of the adults was awakened by noise and looked out to see the entire porch on fire. Fire began to break through downstairs windows as some of the occupants exited, and the fire extended throughout the house when the front door was left open.

Conditions deteriorated quickly after one of the occupants went back into the house and safely returned outside with a child. Two adult occupants, identified in news reports as a mother and daughter, remained on the second floor. The daughter tried to rescue her mother before jumping from a second-floor window and encouraging her mother to do the same. Firefighters entered the burning home and were able to rescue the victim, but she later died at the hospital from smoke inhalation and burn injuries, news reports said.

The house, which was 40 feet (12 meters) long and 25 feet (8 meters) wide, was equipped with smoke alarms but did not have a sprinkler system. It was constructed of wood framing with wood walls and asphalt shingles.

The house and its contents, collectively valued at $300,000, were a total loss.

Homeowner dies in barn fire

MICHIGAN—A homeowner died when a fire in his barn flashed over just after he entered the structure.

The barn was a detached structure at a residence located approximately six miles from the fire department in an area that lacked fire hydrants.

The fire department was notified of the fire at 10:39 a.m. when two contractors who were working on a building approximately 150 to 200 yards away spotted the fire and called 911. While crews were on their way to the scene, dispatch notified the fire chief that the fire had broken through the roof and that the homeowner was missing. The fire chief then requested a second alarm.

Crews estimated that the barn was 75 percent involved with fire as they approached the scene. On arrival, a police officer confirmed to the chief that the homeowner was missing and had been seen entering the barn while it was burning. Crews began to attack the fire, but conditions led the chief to request a third alarm for water tankers and additional personnel a short time later. News reports said that smoke from the fire was visible from 10 miles away.

After the fire was brought under control, crews began overhaul operations, at which point the body of the victim was found just inside the entry door, underneath debris.

Fire investigators examined the scene over two days and determined that the fire started on the second floor of the structure, but were unable to identify what supplied the heat for ignition or the material that it ignited. Investigators also concluded that flashover occurred after the victim entered the structure and that he was instantly knocked on his back, suffering severe smoke inhalation and burn injuries.

The two-story barn had a ground floor of 1,120 square feet (341 square meters). The building was constructed with a wood frame and walls, with a plywood roof deck and asphalt shingles.

The barn and its contents, collectively valued at $50,000, were a total loss.

Deadly fire caused by smoking while on home oxygen

VIRGINA—A female resident died in a midafternoon house fire, which investigators believe started when the victim was smoking while on oxygen delivery equipment.

Occupants of a basement unit notified the fire department of the fire at 3:20 p.m. after they smelled smoke and found an upstairs bedroom engulfed in fire. Crews arrived five minutes later to find heavy smoke and flames showing from the front and one side of the house. A second alarm was quickly called after crews learned that the victim was still inside the residence.

Firefighters entered the residence through the front door to begin an interior attack and search for the victim. After knocking down fire in the hallway, crews proceeded along the corridor to a bedroom fully involved with fire that had burnt out a large section of roof. Firefighters continued to search for the victim in a second bedroom, kitchen, and living room while efforts were made to extinguish the fire.

As additional companies arrived, a second interior line was deployed into the structure, concentrating on the attic area. As the fire was knocked down, crews saw a body in the fully involved bedroom and notified command. The victim’s badly burned body was removed for identification and examination by a medical examiner.

Investigators determined that the fire started in the bed area in the victim’s bedroom. The victim, who news reports said was under hospice care, was receiving treatment with home oxygen equipment in her bedroom. Based on burns inside the oxygen tubing, burn patterns in the room, and intense fire conditions, investigators believe that the victim was smoking in bed and that the fire broke out when the ready supply of oxygen superfueled her smoking materials, quickly spreading through the room.

One firefighter was transported to the hospital for treatment when hot tar fell down the back of his coat causing second-degree burns on his neck. He was treated and later released. A second firefighter dislocated a finger while deploying a large-diameter supply hose, but he had his finger set at the scene and declined hospital treatment.

The house was a single-story, wood-frame structure approximately 1,350 square feet (411 square meters). The house was equipped with battery operated smoke alarms, but investigators were unable to determine if they operated. The house did not have sprinkler protection.

The house, with an estimated value of $129,000, had $30,000 in damages, with an additional $5,000 in damages to its contents.

Automatic sprinkler system contains fire in hotel bathroom

NEW JERSEY—Firefighters dispatched to a midmorning hotel fire arrived to find a guest room filled with smoke and an activated sprinkler system, but no fire.

A central station monitor notified the fire department at 10:10 a.m. after a fire was detected by the hotel’s automatic detection system. Crews arrived on the scene within four minutes.

The fire originated in a guest room bathroom on the 57th floor of a large hotel complex. Firefighters reported that the room was full of smoke and the sprinkler system activated when they arrived, and they indicated that the sprinkler system was successful in keeping the fire from causing widespread damage.

After the smoke was cleared, crews were able to see that the fire originated in a light ballast in the bathroom and was caused by an electrical fault in the wiring.

Damage from the fire was limited to the bathroom and included damage to the mirror and light and wall underneath, as well as water damage from the sprinkler system. Damage was estimated at $5,000. No estimates were provided on the value of the hotel or its contents.

EDUCATIONAL

Sprinklers extinguish fire in school auditorium

MINNESOTA—Firefighters responding to an early afternoon fire in a high school auditorium found smoldering curtains on the stage area, because an automatic sprinkler system had already almost entirely extinguished the fire.

Firefighters were dispatched to the school at 12:31 p.m. after the fire activated an automatic detection system.

Upon arrival, crews were told that there was smoke in the auditorium and the officer in charge observed smoke banked down to the top of auditorium seats. Crews entered the auditorium and saw smoke banked down to the floor and the smoldering stage curtains. A single sprinkler from the wet pipe sprinkler system largely extinguished the fire; crews completed extinguishment and ventilated the auditorium.

Student evacuation and fire system operation worked as planned, news reports said. Fire officials cited good code enforcement and good sprinkler and alarm systems for minimizing losses.

Investigators determined that the fire started when radiant heat from a halogen light ignited the curtain. Although the fire spread through the curtain, it did not ignite any other materials.

The auditorium was located on the first floor of the three-story, 12,000 square foot (3,700 square meter) school building. The fire caused an estimated $5,000 in damages to the building (valued at $15 million) and $5,000 in damage to building contents (valued at $5 million).

OFFICE

Fire causes $15M in damage to government building

WISCONSIN—An early morning fire in a four-story state office building caused an estimated $15 million in damage.

The fire originated in a large room on the fourth floor containing 66 cubicles for office workers. Smoke detectors were present throughout the building, and sounded at 1:50 a.m. However, a panel located in the facility’s loading dock provided only an indication of a general trouble zone. Investigators were uncertain how long the fire had been burning before it was detected, but they indicated that delayed notification allowed the entire building to fill with smoke.

According to newspaper reports, heavy smoke conditions made it difficult for the first firefighters on scene to find the fire, and a second and third alarm were called to assist in the search effort. Firefighters reportedly found the fire in a cubicle on the fourth floor shortly before 4 a.m. and quickly knocked it down.

Investigators were unable to identify the cause of the fire, but determined that it began in a cubicle below desktop level. The entire fourth floor was damaged by heat, fire, and smoke, and smoke caused damage to the entire building, which is 366,379 square feet (112,000 square meters).

In addition to smoke detectors, the building was protected by heat detectors in kitchen areas on each floor. However, sprinkler protection was limited to a wet pipe sprinkler system in two levels of an underground garage.

Newspapers reported that approximately 1,000 employees were displaced by the fire.

The estimated $15 million in damages included costs of removing smoke-damaged materials, cleaning and restoring documents and files, relocation costs associated with moving employees to other sites, repairing and cleaning the HVAC system, and repairing damaged areas of the fourth floor, including carpet, ceiling, windows, office equipment, and furniture.

MANUFACTURING

Sprinklers extinguish fire in plastics manufacturing plant

TENNESSEE— Sparks from a cutting torch ignited dust and filters inside a paint booth at a plastics manufacturing plant, activating two sprinkler heads, which extinguished the fire before it could spread. Workers from a contracting company were using the cutting torch to remove a piece of equipment over the paint booth.

The fire department arrived at 9:50 a.m. after a flow switch on the sprinkler system triggered an alarm to central dispatch. The fire chief told news reporters that the fire “was actually out when we got there” and that “the sprinklers did their job.” Crews shut off the activated sprinklers and used exhaust fans to clear smoke from the building.

The facility was constructed with brick and block walls and a bar joist roof deck, and was protected by a wet pipe sprinkler system. In addition, firewalls were present in the facility’s interior, but details were not available on their type or location.

The plastics manufacturing plant had a ground-floor area of 200,000 square feet (61,000 square meters).

Investigators indicated that there were no losses to the building, valued at $2.5 million, or its contents.

RICHARD CAMPBELL is a senior analyst for NFPA. Top Photograph: Roberto M. Esquivel/Herald Standard