Author(s): Richard Campbell. Published on May 1, 2017.

STORAGE & REPAIR

MAINE

Storage facility destroyed by fire originating in bucket truck

An afternoon fire that originated in a bucket truck at an electrical storage and repair facility spread to an adjacent building, injuring an employee who was working in the truck and causing more than $1 million in damage.

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The fire department was dispatched following a 911 call from the facility at 3 p.m. The first report from the scene indicated that the truck’s bucket was burning, but a revised report said that the fire had spread to the eaves of the building, and a request was made to summon support from mutual aid companies. Shortly after, a third alarm was issued with a request for tankers and pumpers. A fourth alarm was called later.

Incident command directed crews to set up a portable tank next to an engine at one end of the structure and established a shuttle system for tankers delivering water supply.

Due to wind gusts of up to 30 miles per hour and a fuel load of stored materials inside the building, the fire developed rapidly and the entire structure became fully involved. Multiple explosions took place inside the building as the fire progressed, which investigators attributed to acetylene tanks and other common contents of a service garage.

Incident command determined that no personnel would operate from the front of the building due to its expected collapse. Lines were placed into service at both sides of the structure. As anticipated, the building collapsed within the first hour of operations. Operations were further complicated when wind gusts carried burning debris into a field across the street, resulting in a grass fire. At one point, nearly half the firefighting resources utilized in the incident were assigned to extinguishing the resulting grass fires.

As the fire waned, firefighters wearing self-contained breathing apparatuses used excavators to turn over debris piles and allow them to be wetted down to prevent smoldering piles from reigniting.

An estimated 60 firefighters responded to the fire and the last apparatus cleared the scene approximately six and a half hours after the alarm was received. News reports indicated that the fire knocked out power to hundreds of people in the area.

Reports indicated that the fire started when welding slag dropped onto power lines as the employee in the bucket truck was using welding equipment. The hot slag ignited the power lines and the underside of the bucket before spreading to the building. There was a delay in calling 911 as co-workers came to the aid of the injured employee, who was trapped in the bucket and had to jump to escape.

The injured worker was transported to the hospital by a co-worker before the arrival of the fire department. He suffered burns to his face and arms, but the extent of his injuries was not reported.

The storage building was three stories in height and had a ground-floor area of 12,600 square feet (1,171 square meters). It was constructed with a wood frame, with a roof deck and cover constructed with steel panels.

The facility was not protected by automatic detection or sprinkler systems.

The building and its contents, with a value of $1.5 million, were a total loss.

RESIDENTIAL

SOUTH DAKOTA

One injured when lightning strike starts attic fire

A lightning strike was blamed for starting a fire in a multi-unit apartment building that left one tenant with smoke inhalation injuries and caused an estimated $275,000 in damage.

Firefighters were dispatched to a report of a structure fire following multiple calls to ٩١١ at ٦:٤٥ p.m. Crews reported heavy smoke and flames showing from the building’s attic as they arrived at the scene. Residents waiting outside informed crews that the third floor of the building had been evacuated, but crews radioed a request for at least two police units to assist with further evacuations and to control the flow of traffic. Crews positioned a hose line while a truck company set up a ladder pipe to start attacking fire on the roof.

After crews were informed that a resident on the second floor needed to be rescued, a ladder was raised to a balcony opening and crews brought down a female resident who was treated at the scene for smoke inhalation. A male resident was also treated for smoke inhalation and was transported by ambulance to the hospital.

Firefighters were able to contain the fire to the attic space, but news reports indicated that all residents were displaced by the fire. The local chapter of the Red Cross provided assistance to displaced residents.

The fire was first detected when a tenant spotted fire in the ceiling above an interior stairway. Two residents of the complex were reported to have run from door to door to alert their neighbors of the need to evacuate.

Investigators determined that the fire started in the attic after lightning struck the roof. Lightning reports verified three cloud-to-ground strikes at coordinates within the confines of the building at 6:36 p.m., just minutes before the fire was reported.

The structure was equipped with hardwired smoke alarms in bedrooms and hallways and heat detectors in the attic, as well as a wet-pipe automatic sprinkler system. However, investigators indicated that the alarms failed to activate because static electricity from the strike disabled heat detection equipment located in the attic, which sent trouble signals to the alarm monitoring company. A balcony sprinkler successfully operated after burning material dropped from the roofline, preventing the fire from spreading into the unit. Smoke alarms inside the units began to sound as residents opened their doors.

The apartment building was composed of 17 units on three stories. The building was constructed with a wood frame, and its roof and floor framing were constructed with engineered wood. The roof was covered with asphalt shingles and exterior walls with vinyl siding. It occupied a ground-floor area of 6,000 square feet (557 square meters).

The building, valued at slightly more than $1 million, suffered an estimated $250,000 in damage. Contents losses were estimated at $25,000.

ILLINOIS

Extensive damage, multiple injuries in fire at condominium complex

Firefighters were dispatched to a multi-unit condominium complex following a fire alarm activation at 4:40 a.m.

No signs of fire were apparent as the first engine company reached the complex, a six-story structure consisting of 72 units. As the crew prepared to enter the building with an ambulance crew, they detected light smoke from the roof area and received a report of smoke on the sixth floor from a resident in the lobby.

When the next crew reached the scene, they observed fire from the windows of a sixth-floor unit at the rear of the building, and smoke had become heavier. As they sized up the fire, the firefighters reported that a window failed and that the fire began to self-ventilate, leading to a request for additional resources, including an additional tower truck and ambulance.

Incident command assigned a tower truck to the front of the building and directed a quint truck to set up its aerial device at the rear. Inside, crews carrying an attack line reported heavy smoke on the sixth floor and heavy fire in one unit. Crews forced doors to adjacent units while mounting primary search operations as the attack line was stretched. A male resident from the unit of origin was located on a sixth-floor landing and evacuated to an ambulance crew, which transported him to the hospital.

Firefighters began attacking the fire with aerial streams from the front and rear of the building, while crews inside attacked the fire on the sixth floor while continuing rescue operations. The tower truck at the front of the building repositioned itself to evacuate occupants who had gathered on a sixth-floor balcony.

The fire was reported to be under control by 5:23 a.m., but news reports indicated that crews remained on the scene for hours afterward as they performed primary and secondary searches of all units and engaged in salvage operations. In addition to the balcony rescue, those reports indicated, crews escorted at least six occupants through an interior stairwell.

In addition to the injured resident, four firefighters were injured during firefighting operations, but only one of these was reported to require hospital treatment. The resident experienced burn and smoke inhalation injuries that were described as non-life-threatening.

Investigators determined that the fire started when an oven that had been left on became hot enough to ignite combustible items stored on top of the stove, then spread through the kitchen.

The building was protected by an automatic detection system with a main panel connected to detectors in hallways, stairwells, elevator lobbies, and other common areas. Individual units were protected by local smoke alarms. Sprinkler heads for a partial wet-pipe sprinkler system provided coverage in utility and storage areas only.

The building occupied a ground-floor area of 22,500 square feet (2,090 square meters). It was constructed with masonry walls, a steel roof, and steel floor framing, and had a concrete-over-steel roof deck that was covered by a built-up roof membrane.

The fire caused an estimated $3 million in damage to the building, valued at $12 million. Building contents, with a value estimated at $5 million, suffered an additional $300,000 in damage.

VIRGINIA

Two killed in house fire started by electrical arc

An early morning house fire caused by an electrical fault claimed the lives of two residents who had been evacuated from their burning home by firefighters.

Firefighters were dispatched to the house at 1:30 a.m. following a 911 report of a structure fire with occupants trapped inside.

The first crews to reach the scene reported heavy smoke and flames from a front corner of the residence, with flames also showing from the roof. Crews prepared to go into rescue mode, and the need for rescue operations was confirmed after no occupants were found outside the structure during a size-up from the perimeter. The rescue team forced the front door and began conducting a primary search, accompanied by firefighters who began interior fire suppression.

Crews were able to quickly locate a male occupant in a front room and carried him to the front yard, where they performed CPR before moving him to an ambulance for transport to a hospital. The second victim was found in a chair behind a closed door at the rear of the house. She was removed from the home and crews performed CPR while transferring her to a stretcher and to a waiting ambulance. Both occupants later died in the hospital from their injuries.

Crews performing extinguishment were able to bring the fire under control in approximately 20 minutes, according to newspaper reports. A fan was set up at the front door to assist with ventilation before the fire marshal’s office arrived to begin investigation.

The investigation indicated that the fire began when an electrical fault in an air conditioner ignited multiple unspecified items.

The one-story home was of wood construction and occupied a ground-floor area of 1,564 square feet (145 square meters). Investigators reported that the house had no automatic detection system.

The house and contents, valued at $67,060, were listed as a total loss.

KANSAS

Furnace flue blamed for deadly fire

The resident of a single-family home died in an early morning fire that began when high heat from the furnace ignited the floor assembly and spread through the structure.

Firefighters responded to the fire after a neighbor saw smoke and called 911 at 4:30 a.m. The first units described smoke coming from the front of the house through the front entrance and attic area upon arrival and indicated that police had already removed the front door and were attempting to locate the resident.

Crews initiated a primary search and located the resident in a rear bedroom, then evacuated him on a portable transport unit. Once outside, crews determined that he could not be resuscitated after noting rigor mortis in the victim’s neck and placing him on an ECG monitor.

Firefighters used a handline to extinguish the fire, then completed overhaul before turning the scene over to investigators.

Investigators determined that the flue from the home’s floor furnace was rusted and deteriorated, allowing high heat from the furnace to ignite the floor assembly. Because the home’s single fire alarm was determined to be inoperable, the resulting fire was able to burn without detection for an unknown period of time.

The home did not have automatic sprinkler protection.

The home was a single-story structure with a ground-floor area of 912 square feet (85 square meters). It was constructed with a wood frame and walls, wood joist floor framing, and a wood roof deck covered with asphalt shingles.

The house and contents, collectively valued at $96,000, were a total loss.

MICHIGAN

Fire caused by electrical short claims two residents, injures another

An electrical short was blamed for starting an early morning house fire that claimed the lives of two residents and left a third with smoke inhalation and burn injuries.

The fire department was dispatched to the fire at 2:30 a.m. following a report of a possible structure fire with a smell of smoke in the residence. Crews reported that there were no signs of fire from the exterior of the single-story house upon arrival.

A male occupant who had evacuated the house was waiting outside. Neighbors informed firefighters that two of the home’s residents were still inside the structure.

Crews opened the front door and encountered thick black smoke that was banked down to the floor. They attempted to reach a couch where the occupants were believed to be located, but were pushed back by heavy smoke.

Two firefighters donned self-contained breathing apparatuses and entered the house to begin a primary search. They were followed shortly afterward by a second search crew. The search crews requested ventilation due to the smoke conditions inside the home and reported moderate heat, but no visible signs of fire.

Members of the search team located a male victim on the floor of a bedroom at the front of the house and pulled him to the front door, where EMS crews assumed patient care. Shortly afterward, a female victim was found at the foot of the bed in the same room and was also evacuated and turned over for medical treatment. Crews reported that both victims were in cardiac arrest. Newspaper accounts reported that the victims were pronounced dead at the scene.

Firefighters then entered the home to begin fire attack and noted that heat and flame patterns suggested that the fire was in the basement. Crews encountered increased heat and heavy smoke with no visibility as they entered the basement. At the bottom of the stairs, they found embers on a mattress and along the side of the stairs. They extinguished the fire and exited the structure after their air supply alarms activated. Crews reentered the home to extinguish hot spots on the mattress and move it outside.

Investigators determined that heat from a short circuit in electrical wiring spread to paneling and the mattress in the basement, with smoke and heat extending up the stairs into the kitchen.

Investigators noted that the home’s only protection was a 15-year-old ionization battery-powered smoke alarm and indicated that the alarm alerted the occupant late into the event.

The home was a one-story residence with a ground-floor area of 1,128 square feet (105 square meters). The structure was constructed with wood and had a roof deck covered by asphalt shingles.

The fire caused an estimated $35,000 in damage to the structure, which was valued at $90,000, and an additional $10,000 in damage to its contents, valued at $45,000.

SOUTH CAROLINA

Faulty wiring blamed for fatal fire

Firefighters were dispatched to an early morning house fire after neighboring residents heard smoke alarms sounding and called 911 at 12 a.m. after seeing smoke coming from the structure.

Newspaper reports indicated that firefighters found a male resident in a bedroom while searching the house. He was evacuated and taken to the hospital, but later died as a result of smoke inhalation injuries.

Investigators determined that the fire was caused when improper wiring from an electrical panel ignited paper items located on a shelf next to the electrical panel box in the kitchen. Toxicology reports indicated that the victim was intoxicated at the time of the fire, which investigators cited as a factor that may have prevented his escape.

The house was equipped with smoke alarms, which were still sounding upon the arrival of the fire department. The house did not have an automatic sprinkler system.

The house was a single-story structure constructed with a wood frame and walls and a roof covered with asphalt shingles. It had a ground-floor area of 1,200 square feet (111 square meters).

The fire caused an estimated $4,000 in damage to the structure, which was valued at $10,000, and $1,500 in contents losses.

WASHINGTON

Resident dies in fire started by smoking materials

A female resident died in a fire that started when a cigarette set fire to paper items on her living room floor, then spread through her manufactured home.

The fire department was alerted to the fire after a neighbor called 911 at 6 a.m. An engine company that was first on the scene reported smoke showing from the home and initiated rescue operations due to credible reports of an occupant inside the structure. The search and rescue effort was joined by a second engine company four minutes later.

Crews described heavy smoke and heat inside the home upon entry, and located the deceased victim on a sofa in the living room. They were able to quickly extinguish the fire, which was limited to items on the floor near the victim’s feet. Firefighters ventilated the structure and summoned a coroner to the scene for removal of the victim.

Investigators determined that the fire ignited when a cigarette was dropped onto the floor beside the sofa. They indicated that there was an oxygen machine along one side of the sofa, but the victim did not appear to be on oxygen when the fire started.

The single-wide manufactured home had a ground-floor area of 1,080 square feet (100 square meters).

Damage to the structure, valued at $40,000, was estimated at $12,000. Damage to the contents was estimated at $6,000.

OHIO

Unattended cooking materials start fire that claims life of resident

An apartment fire that ignited when cooking materials were left burning on the stove claimed the life of the male resident after he apparently tried to reenter the free-burning kitchen.

Firefighters were called to the eight-unit apartment building when neighbors called 911 to report a structure fire with someone trapped inside. First arriving crews reported that smoke was visible and requested assistance from an additional engine.

Crews made entry and found the victim approximately four feet inside the structure with severe burn injuries, and evacuated him to the front yard, where they detected a heartbeat and initiated advanced life support protocols before transporting him to the hospital.

Crews pulled a handline into the apartment and extinguished fire in the kitchen and living room. They then laddered the roof and removed roof vents and accessed the attic, where they found high heat but no fire extension.

The victim died in the hospital from burn and smoke inhalation injuries.

Firefighters found that a burner on the kitchen stove was in the high position and that a pan had burn marks from the stove’s heating element. Investigators believe that the victim fell asleep after starting to cook dinner and tried to reenter the kitchen after the cooking materials ignited and fire spread through the kitchen.

The apartment was equipped with a smoke alarm that operated as intended.

The apartment was one story in height and occupied a ground-floor area of approximately 600 square feet (56 square meters). It was constructed with a wood frame and masonry fire walls, and a concrete floor, with a wood roof deck covered by asphalt shingles.

Information on property losses was not reported.

VIRGINIA

One dies in house fire started by cooking materials

An early afternoon fire that started when cooking oil ignited claimed the life of the home’s resident.

Firefighters responded to the fire at 1:30 p.m. after a school bus driver noticed smoke coming from the structure and called 911.

The first crews on the scene made a forced entry through the front entrance and advanced an attack line through the living room and into the kitchen, where they found fire conditions around the stove. The male victim was located in the kitchen and removed from the structure through the front door. A fire crew remained in place to extinguish the fire and check for extension as efforts were made to resuscitate the victim outside.

The victim was determined to be deceased at the scene shortly after he was evacuated. One firefighter suffered unspecified injuries during the rescue.

Investigators determined that a frying pan containing cooking oil was left on top of the stove with the element on the high position, and that after the oil ignited, fire spread to cabinets above the stove and to nearby combustibles.

The house was an attached single-family dwelling in a two-unit duplex and was constructed with a wood frame and wood walls that were covered by a vinyl veneer. The house had a plywood roof deck and asphalt shingles.

Investigators reported that the house was equipped with smoke alarms in two bedrooms, but indicated that they were not operating when firefighters arrived.

The single-story structure occupied a ground-floor area of 880 square feet (82 square meters).

The fire caused an estimated $60,000 in damage to the house, which was valued at $109,000, as well as $15,000 in damage to its contents, whose value was estimated at $30,000.

MINNESOTA

Elderly resident dies in fire started by smoking materials

An elderly woman with a mobility disability suffered unspecified injuries when she was unable to escape after setting fire to a chair with a dropped cigarette.

Firefighters received a report of a house fire at 10:43 p.m. Upon arrival, crews found an occupant outside the structure and an active fire on the first floor of one unit of a side-by-side duplex. EMS crews treated the victim before transporting her to the hospital. Firefighters were able to quickly knock down the fire, which was largely confined to the living room where the chair was located.

The victim’s adult son, who lived in the adjacent unit, informed investigators that his mother phoned him to tell him that her chair was on fire and she couldn’t get off. He found his mother and the chair on fire when he came to her aid and pulled her from the chair, then carried her outside. His mother told him that the fire started after she dropped the cigarette on the chair while sitting in it.

The victim succumbed to her injuries four days after the fire.

The house was a two-story structure with a main floor area of 2,584 square feet (240 square meters).

Losses from the fire were estimated at $75,000 in damage to the structure and $25,000 to its contents.

ALABAMA

Woman fatally injured when kitchen stove ignites sleeve while cooking

Firefighters were dispatched to a reported fire at an apartment complex at 8 a.m. following a 911 call from a health services worker making a home visit to a neighboring residence.

Upon arrival, crews found smoke showing from a two-unit structure and pulled an attack line for initial fire attack. The health services worker who reported the fire told the incident commander that the apartment’s occupant was likely still inside.

Crews entered the apartment to conduct a primary search, but were unable to locate the occupant. The interior attack crew then contacted incident command to request a thermal imaging camera and an additional flashlight. After acquiring the equipment, the crews conducted a secondary search and located a female occupant on the floor between the kitchen and dining room. The occupant was conscious but had severe burn injuries. Firefighters carried the resident outside and placed her on an ambulance stretcher for immediate transport to the hospital. The occupant later succumbed to her injuries at the hospital.

Crews then returned to the apartment to locate the fire. In the kitchen, they found that the stovetop was turned on and that a pan with food remnants was still smoldering.

Investigators determined that the victim, who was elderly and had a mobility disability, was preparing food in her kitchen when her sleeve contacted the stove’s burner and caught on fire. She then fell while attempting to walk to the phone and was unable to extinguish the flames.

The apartment was equipped with a smoke alarm which activated and sounded, but investigators estimated that there was a 30-minute delay before the call was made to 911.

The apartment was a single-story structure with a ground-floor area of 850 square feet (79 square meters), constructed with a wood frame, brick walls, and a wood roof deck covered with asphalt shingles.

The apartment was valued at $80,000. The fire was reported to have not resulted in any property losses.

RECREATIONAL

WASHINGTON

Automatic sprinkler extinguishes fire in recreational facility sauna

An automatic sprinkler system extinguished a fire at a recreation facility after a wooden bucket was left on top of a heater in a sauna.

The fire department was dispatched to the facility following notification by a monitoring company after the fire activated the automatic detection system at 8 a.m.

Crews found that the fire started in a sauna on the second floor after a wood bucket was left on top of the sauna’s heater. The heater ignited the bucket and fire spread to the sauna walls before the sprinkler activated and extinguished the fire before the fire department’s arrival.

The fire department indicated that the entire facility was protected by a wet-pipe sprinkler system and that one sprinkler opened to extinguish the fire. Smoke detectors were also located throughout the building. Newspaper coverage reported that the facility was able to reopen after the fire was put out.

The building was a two-story structure constructed with a wood frame and walls and had a wood roof deck that was covered by asphalt shingles. It occupied a ground-floor area of 6,500 square feet (604 square meters).

The fire caused an estimated $6,000 in damage to the building, valued at $2 million. There was no damage to building contents, also valued at $2 million.

EDUCATIONAL

ILLINOIS

Sprinkler extinguishes fire in high school lab

A fire that started in a high school science laboratory during an experiment involving a Bunsen burner was quickly extinguished by an overhead sprinkler, causing minimal damage.

Firefighters were dispatched to the school after a sprinkler in the lab activated and triggered the alarm.

Firefighters reported no signs of fire as they arrived at the school. Crews were advised by school officials that the fire was out, but proceeded to the lab to confirm it had been completely extinguished. They remained on the scene until the alarms were silenced.

Investigators determined that the fire was caused by the ignition of fuel that was contained inside the Bunsen burner.

The building was protected by a wet-pipe sprinkler system that was connected to a central station alarm system.

The school building was a four-story structure with a ground-floor area of 436,900 square feet (40,590 square meters). The structure was of concrete block construction.

The fire resulted in an estimated $500 in damage to the contents of the classroom.

INDUSTRIAL

ILLINOIS

Fire at manufacturing facility causes damage, but no injuries

Firefighters responded to an early morning fire at a manufacturing facility following a phone call from workers, who evacuated the structure after a fire alarm at 4:40 a.m., according to news reports.

Sources indicated that firefighters encountered heavy smoke upon arriving at the facility, with fire showing inside the building, but mounted an aggressive attack that quickly extinguished the fire.

Investigators indicated that the fire began when a malfunctioning piece of machinery heated metal shavings and ignited dust located on top of the machine.

The facility was a single-story structure with a ground-floor area of 9,000 square feet (836 square meters). The building was constructed with concrete floors, and included a metal roof deck on a steel roof frame.

The facility was equipped with smoke detectors connected to a fire alarm. It was not protected by a sprinkler system.

Damage to the structure, which was valued at $400,000, was estimated at $50,000, while damage to its contents, valued at $600,000, was estimated at $100,000.

FIREWATCH is compiled and written by Richard Campbell of NFPA’s Research Division. FIREWATCH is a compilation of fire incidents involving a variety of occupancies and fire types. The intent of Firewatch is to illustrate the range of fire scenarios encountered by the fire service, present the challenges contained in those incidents, recount how the fire service addressed those challenges, and record the effectiveness of fire protection systems, where such systems exist. The incidents are identified by NFPA’s Research Group from fire reports submitted to NFPA by responding fire departments. Some of the fire incidents that appear in Firewatch are augmented with details provided by media accounts. Top Photograph: Ryan Burton