Author(s): Ken Tremblay. Published on September 3, 2014.

Residential

Sprinkler extinguishes dorm fire

NEW YORK–A pan of oil left heating unattended in a common kitchen of a college dormitory building overheated and started a fire that spread to the vent duct and cabinetry over the stove until a single sprinkler extinguished it.
The four-story steel-frame building was protected by a wet-pipe sprinkler that had a water flow alarm reporting to a fire alarm system monitored by campus police. Portable fire extinguishers were also available.
A resident of the fourth floor placed a pot filled with oil on the stove and turned on the burner, then left the kitchen to continue preparations for cooking. When she heard the fire alarms sounding, she left her room and found water coming from a hallway window that looked into the kitchen. She evacuated with other building occupants, all of whom evacuated without injury.
Damage to the building was limited to the kitchen, although an estimate of dollar loss was not reported.

Physically disabled succumbs to fire injuries

MICHIGAN—A 69-year-old woman who had a mobility impairment died of her injuries nearly three days after firefighters rescued her from a fire in her two-family home.
The two-story wood-frame house, which was 50 feet (15 meters) long and 30 feet (9 meters) wide, had vinyl siding and a wooden roof covered by asphalt shingles. The downstairs unit was equipped with battery operated smoke alarms, but there were no sprinklers.
When a second-floor tenant smelled smoke, he knocked on the door of the victim’s first-floor unit. When no one answered, he returned to his apartment and called 911 at 10:03 p.m. Firefighters who arrived three minutes later found no smoke or flames coming from the house, but the first-floor windows were covered with black soot. After forcing open the door, they were met with heavy smoke and moderate heat from a fire burning in the kitchen and a bedroom.
After firefighters extinguished two small fires, they conducted a search of the first floor and found the victim on the floor next to the bed in her bedroom next to the kitchen. They resuscitated her and notified dispatch that they needed an ambulance. The victim was transported to the hospital, where she succumbed to burns over 40 percent of her body and severe smoke inhalation almost three days later.
Investigators, who learned that the woman lived alone and received outside support services, determined that her clothing had ignited while she was cooking. They believe she tried to extinguish the fire herself, citing the discovery of remnants of burnt clothing in the kitchen sink. When that failed, she retreated to her bedroom, where she was overcome by the smoke and collapsed.
The house and its contents, valued at $200,000, sustained an estimated $4,000 in property damage.

Smoking materials cause fatal fire

FLORIDA—A 58-year-old woman who had a history of mental and physical disabilities died in a fire in her duplex that began when she dropped a lit cigarette on the floor.
The single-story duplex, which had concrete block walls and a wooden roof covered by asphalt shingles, had hardwired smoke alarms with battery back-up in each unit just outside the bedroom door. There were no sprinklers.
A neighbor discovered the fire when he heard the smoke alarm operating and called 911 at 9:04 a.m. Firefighters arriving four minutes later found that the fire had nearly self-extinguished due to a lack of ventilation, although heavy smoke lingered in the apartment. They found the woman’s body on the floor between the bed and a chair in her bedroom.
Investigators determined that a cigarette dropped on the bedroom floor between an upholstered chair and a drawer was the most likely cause of ignition.
Damage to the home and its contents was estimated at $5,500.

One dies, one escapes from house fire

TENNESSEE—A 49-year-old man escaped from a fire in the living room of his single-family home, but the other occupant, whose age was not reported, was overcome by smoke and died before he made it out.
The one-floor, wood-frame house, which covered approximately 1,168 square feet (109 square meters), had one smoke alarm in a bedroom and two in the kitchen. There were no sprinklers.
The survivor was awakened by the sound of a smoke alarm to find the interior of the house on fire. After he escaped, neighbors called 911 at 10:55 p.m., and arriving firefighters found the fire in the living room near a couch, chairs, and table. As they extinguished it, they found the body of the victim between a couch and a chair.
Both the occupants were heavy smokers, and the victim was known to smoke on the couch and to leave cigarettes burning in an ashtray. Investigators determined that the victim, who was lying on the couch with his head towards the point of ignition, became aware of the fire and tried to get up but collapsed between the couch and a chair, where he died. Investigators discovered a portable space heater 6 to 8 inches (15 to 20 centimeters) away from the upholstered couch, but they were unable to determine whether the heater started the fire or careless smoking was the culprit.
The home, valued at $100,800, was heavily damaged, and its contents, valued at $50,400, were destroyed.

Three smoke alarms not operable contribute to fire death

CONNECTICUT— A 34-year-old man died of smoke inhalation in a fire that began when smoking materials that had been carelessly disposed of ignited in a bedroom of his single-family house. Two other occupants of the house escaped.
The one-story, wood-frame, ranch-style home, which measured 62 feet (19 meters) by 24 feet (7 meters), had smoke alarms in the living room, hallway, and basement, but they were not operational. There were no sprinklers.
A neighbor reported the fire at 5:52 a.m., and firefighters arrived nine minutes later to find flames coming from the roof at the rear of the house. The two occupants who had escaped from the burning home could not account for the victim, and crews began an offensive attack to initiate a primary search. Shortly after they did so, however, the incident commander removed them and the roof collapsed into the kitchen and a bedroom.
Once the fire was brought under control, crews reentered the house and found the victim in a bedroom at the end of a hallway just beyond the bedroom in which the fire began. Investigators determined that the blaze started when carelessly disposed of smoking materials ignited a chair and or some clothing in the room while the house’s occupants slept. The victim’s bedroom was located just beyond the room of origin and escape was possible only through a window. Investigators said delayed detection was a contributing factor in his death.
The home, valued at $245,000, and its contents, valued at $70,000, were destroyed. One of the survivors, a 62-year-old woman, suffered smoke inhalation injuries.

Sprinklers extinguish fire in assisted-living facility

ALABAMA—A 63-year-old woman on home oxygen was smoking when she fell asleep in her apartment at an assisted-living facility and her bedding and mattress ignited. The facility was equipped with a wet-pipe sprinkler system, and two sprinklers activated, alerting the occupants and extinguishing the fire.
The apartment in the two-story, wood-frame facility building covered approximately 624 square feet (58 square meters). In addition to the sprinkler system, there was a water flow alarm monitored by a fire alarm and notification system.
The fire department received the automatic alarm at 6:49 a.m. and additional phone reports of a possible fire with water coming from the apartment door. When firefighters arrived six minutes later, they found that the sprinkler system had extinguished the fire.
Investigators determined that the woman, who suffered smoke inhalation and a burn to one of her shoulders, fell asleep while she was smoking in bed. The sprinklers limited damage to the building, valued at $600,000, and its contents, valued at $200,000, to an estimated $75,000 and $25,000, respectively.

Careless smoking ignites fire

NEVADA—A fire that was started by abandoned or carelessly disposed of smoking materials damaged an unoccupied apartment in a two-story, wood-frame apartment building. The apartment, which was approximately 40 feet (12 meters) wide and 20 feet (6 meters) long, had hardwired smoke detectors with battery back up. The building had no sprinklers.
When a neighbor checking his mailbox noticed light smoke coming from a first-floor apartment, he went around the building to investigate and discovered fire on the other side of the patio door. He called 911 at 2:37 a.m., and firefighters arrived shortly afterward to find smoke showing from the apartment. After forcing the apartment’s locked door, fire crews entered the unit and extinguished a fire in the living room.
Investigators determined that heat from abandoned or discarded smoking materials near an upholstered couch in the living room ignited the sofa’s fabric and that the ensuing fire spread to a chair. A home oxygen concentrator was located nearby, but it was not in use at the time of the fire and did not contribute to the blaze.
The fire did an estimated $10,000 in damage to the building and its contents.

Teenaged girl dies in house fire

MASSACHUSETTS—A 15-year-old girl died of burns and her 46-year-old mother suffered smoke inhalation injuries in a fire in their single-family home. The two-story, wood-frame house, which was 30 feet (9 meters) wide and 40 feet (12 meters) long, had no smoke alarms or sprinklers.
Neighbors heard a woman calling for help at 4:29 a.m. and looked out to see her trapped on her porch roof by a rapidly spreading fire. They immediately called 911, and police and firefighters arrived three minutes later to find the first floor nearly engulfed in flames and heavy black smoke coming from all the house’s doors and windows. As ladder crew brought the woman down to safety, she reported that her 15-year-old daughter was still in the house in her second-floor bedroom. Firefighters reentered the house to search for her daughter, but the incident commander soon ordered them from the building, as the entire first floor and half of the second floor was on fire.
After a defensive attack knocked the fire down, crews found the missing girl in her bedroom. The floor had burned through, and crews had to place a plywood supported by a across the floor so they could remove her body.
Investigators determined that the fire started in the first-floor living room and spread up to the second floor, but they were unable to determine the exact cause of the blaze. The girl’s mother told them that she had filled a wood stove with wood, put a pan of water on top of it, and lowered the thermostat as she always did before bed. She then fell asleep in her second-floor bedroom, until she was awakened by the smoke.
The value of the home was not reported, but damage to the house is estimated at $149,000, and damage to its contents is estimated at $74,500.

Fatal fire spread through open door

OHIO—A 21-year-old man and a 20-year-old woman died as a result of smoke inhalation after a fire trapped them in the attic bedroom of a 2 1/2-story home that housed several students.
The wood-frame house had a finished attic space containing a bedroom, as well as a finished basement with another bedroom. Battery-operated smoke alarms had been installed in the hallways, stairwells, and bedrooms, but investigators found that only a few of the alarms had batteries. There were no sprinklers.
A second-floor occupant discovered the fire when his foot felt warm and he noticed that his bedding had been ignited by a nearby portable electric space heater. He left his bedroom to retrieve a fire extinguisher, but he was unable to control the fire and left the burning room, leaving the door open. Smoke and heat spread from the bedroom into the hallway and up the stairs to the attic, where the victims slept.
Firefighters received the alarm at 6:50 a.m., and arrived shortly afterward to find two occupants standing on the lawn. They told the fire crews that two or three other people were still in the house.
Although firefighters could see no smoke or flames coming from the exterior of the house, they did find heavy smoke at the top of the second-floor stairs and discovered the two unconscious victims in the attic. Both were taken to the hospital, but later succumbed to their smoke inhalation injuries. During a secondary search, fire crews found two more occupants in the basement, neither of whom was injured.
Investigators determined that the occupant of the room of origin heard the smoke alarm sounding only after he tried to extinguish the fire.
The house, valued at $215,000, sustained damage estimated at $15,000. Its contents, valued at $35,000, sustained $5,000 in damage.

Residential sprinklers limit fire damage

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), had a wet-pipe residential sprinkler system that provided coverage in all the 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.

Electrical wiring causes fatal fire

MISSOURI—A 41-year-old woman who was awaiting surgery for back and leg injuries died in a fire that began in her kitchen and spread to the attic of her one-story, single-family house. One of the victim’s dogs also died in the fire.
The wood-frame house, which was 20 feet (6 meters) long and 40 feet (12 meters) wide, had a smoke alarm on the wall in the living room and another in the rear bedroom, both of which firefighters heard operating before they entered the building. There were no sprinklers.
A neighbor discovered the fire and called 911 at 3:30 a.m. When firefighters arrived minutes later, they found heavy smoke and flames coming from the roof and began to force the locked doors to gain entry. At the back of the house, they found the woman and her two dogs just inside the door and brought them outside, where firefighters performed CPR on the woman. She was transported to the hospital, where she died of smoke inhalation.
Investigators determined that the fire started above the kitchen ceiling and concluded that the cause was resistance heat build up in electrical wires attached to wood joists in the attic They also determined that the victim was compromised by alcohol and medication.
The house, valued at $46,900, was significantly damaged.

Sprinkler limits damage in nursing home fire

MICHIGAN—A single sprinkler extinguished a fire that began in a dehumidifier in an unoccupied patient room at a nursing home before it could spread and do major damage.
The two-story, steel-frame building, which had concrete block walls and a steel roof with a built-up surface, was protected by smoke and heat detectors with manual pull stations and a water flow alarm that complied with NFPA 72®, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code, and was monitored by a central station alarm company. The building also had an NFPA 13 wet-pipe sprinkler system providing full coverage.
The smoke detectors alerted building occupants and the fire department to the fire, which was extinguished when the sprinkler system activated. Investigators determined that the blaze started when a dehumidifier shorted and set fire to a small cabinet. The home’s smoke doors operated as designed and kept smoke in the compartment, together with the sprinkler limiting damage to the multimillion dollar building to $5,000 and damage to its contents to just $1,500. No one was injured.

Storage

Homeless man dies in car fire

MASSACHUSETTS—A homeless 60-year-old man died and a 48-year-old woman suffered smoke inhalation injuries and burns when the car they were living in caught fire.
A commercial salvage yard worker called firefighters at 9 a.m. to report a car on fire in the yard, and firefighters arriving six minutes found the fire spreading to four other vehicles and a structure. Inside one of the vehicles, they saw a 20-pound (kilogram) propane cylinder venting and intensifying the blaze.
Once they extinguished the fire, which destroyed the five cars, firefighters learned that the couple was using the vehicle of origin as a shelter. Based on the survivor’s statements, investigators determined that a portable, propane-fired cook stove attached by a hose to a the propane cylinder in the car ignited their bedding.

Manufacturing

Sprinkler controls fire in unoccupied building

WISCONSIN—A single sprinkler extinguished a fire that began in a waste disposal facility when a paint filter spontaneously combusted.
The two-story, steel-frame commercial building covered an area of approximately 42,900 square feet (3,902 square meters). The wet-pipe sprinkler system and fire alarm system provided only local notification and were not connected to a monitoring company.
An employee of another company passing by heard the exterior alarm bell and called 911 at 3:13 a.m. when he saw water seeping out beneath a garage door. Firefighters arrived minutes later to find smoke coming from the building and the sprinkler system operating. Engine companies quickly established a water supply, and a four-person crew entered the building from a service door. Inside, they saw the sprinkler operating and light to moderate smoke, but no fire. They conducted a search of the building and cleared it of smoke, but the fire caused only minor damage.
Investigators determined that the paint filter, which had been used in a facility paint booth, was disposed of improperly.
The building, valued at an estimated $2.5 million, and its contents, valued at $250,000, sustained less than $1,000 in property damage.

Explosion in building injures three

OHIO—Three workers who ranged from 29 to 57 years old suffered burns in an explosion at a large industrial building in which molten plastic was extruded and injected with isobutane gas to create foam packaging materials.
The steel-frame, single-story building, which measured 480 feet (146 meters) by 140 feet (43 meters), had metal walls and metal roof panels. It was protected by a fire alarm system and a wet-pipe sprinkler system, each of which was monitored by a central station alarm company. Since the manufacturing process involved non-odorized isobutane, the building was also equipped with several combustible gas indicators, and additional measures, such as grounding, had been taken to protect the plant.
At approximately 10:52 p.m., an unintentional release of isobutane occurred was ignited by an undetermined ignition source near one of the production lines, causing an explosion that caused more than 70 sprinklers to operate. The fire alarms went off almost immediately, as well. Although there was extensive physical damage to the building, the three victims and another employee working at the time of the explosion were all safely evacuated.
Faced with a building heavily damaged by an explosion and the potential for further explosions and building collapse, the incident commander had the engine and ladder companies establish initial tactical positions, as well as an area to treat the injured. After the fire was extinguished, investigators found that the explosion had moved the heavy machinery from its original positions and had blown exterior walls outward and bent structural steel supports. In addition, some of the sprinklers had been torn off the sprinkler piping.
The building, valued at $800,000, sustained damage estimated at $450,000. Its contents, valued at $250,000, were destroyed.

Mercantile

Fire in store attic causes collapse

CALIFORNIA—A fire in an attic of a store that sold antiques and consignments spread undetected until a passerby saw it and called 911 at 2:53 a.m. The single-story, masonry building, which was 100 feet (30 meters) long and 60 feet (18 meters) wide, had no sprinklers or fire detection system. The interior of the store was set up as cubicles for rent by vendors.
Responding firefighters found heavy smoke and flames in concealed spaces and attacked the fire defensively. As they did so, the ceiling and roof collapsed into the structure, causing a partial wall collapse. Fortunately, an abutting wall remained intact and prevented the fire from spreading.
Investigators determined that the fire started in the concealed attic space but could not conclusively identify the cause. One of the vendors had closed the building for the night some nine hours before and shut off power to everything inside the building but the HVAC units and lights at the front and back of the store.
The building, valued at $500,000, and its contents, also valued at $500,000, were destroyed. One firefighter suffered a back injury during extinguishment.

Basic Office

One dead after clothing ignites

ARKANSAS—A 59-year-old man who was sheltering with another man in a post office lobby that was open to the public died after his clothing caught fire.
The steel-frame building had metal walls covered by decorative brick and gypsum. A wet-pipe sprinkler system provided full coverage, but the building had no fire alarm system. At the time of the fire, the building was closed for a holiday.
A passerby reported the incident to the fire department at 5:50 p.m., and by the time firefighters arrived, the man was alone in the lobby and his clothes had either self-extinguished or been extinguished by someone else. They transported the victim to the hospital, where he died four days later.
Investigators determined that some type of open flame device was used to ignited the person clothing, although they could not tell if the fire had been started intentionally by others or unintentionally by the victim. When firefighters arrived the other man the witness had seen in the lobby was gone. Contributing to the death of the victim was the consumption of alcohol.
Fire damage was limited to the victim with very minor damage to the building. In fact, the fire was so small that a sprinkler over the victim did not operate.

Assembly

Electrical outlet fails, starts fire in bowling alley

MICHIGAN—Mechanical damage to an electrical outlet led to arcing, which resulted in a fire in the commercial kitchen of a bowling alley and restaurant.
The single-story, steel-frame building, which measured 200 feet (61 meters) by 200 feet (61 meters), had metal walls and a roof with a built-up surface. A fire detection system had been installed, and a monitored wet-pipe sprinkler system provided full coverage. Sprinklers in the kitchen were outfitted with dry pendant sprinklers.
Firefighters received an automatic alarm from the central station alarm company at 9:17 a.m. and arrived three minutes later to find smoke coming from the building. While some crews forced a door to gain entrance, other companies established a water supply, laddered the building, and set up operations for an interior fire attack. Firefighters advanced a 1 3/4-inch hose line into the kitchen where the fire appeared to have started and found sprinklers controlling the fire. Crews quickly extinguished the blaze, shut down the sprinkler system, and started ventilating the smoke from the structure.
Investigators found that the fire started in a wall outlet under a prep table between two upright commercial refrigerators. It appeared that mechanical damage to the outlet initiated arcing that heated the junction box and surrounding materials. The first item ignited appeared to have been a plastic bucket or tub, from which the fire spread to cardboard pizza boxes stored on top of the refrigerators, activating six sprinklers.
The building, valued at $1 million, sustained an estimated at $150,000 in damage. Its contents, valued at $500,000, sustained $50,000 in damage. There were no injuries.