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

RESIDENTIAL

One dies, one injured in early morning off-campus fire

INDIANA—An early morning fire in an off-campus apartment building claimed the life of one occupant and sent another to the hospital with smoke inhalation and burn injuries.

The fire department received the alarm at 5:06 a.m. following a 911 call from a passerby who spotted the fire, and first-arriving units were on the scene at 5:07 a.m. Upon arrival, firefighters observed heavy smoke and flames visible on the south side of the three-story apartment building and heavy fire conditions on the second and third floors. Evacuating residents who were gathered at the front of the building told crews that a person was still in a second-floor apartment.

Firefighters advised dispatch to direct the university fire department to the location and approached police officers on the scene to request assistance in evacuating all apartment units.

While exterior size-up was underway, crews ran a hoseline to the entrance of the south unit and set up a ladder at the front window of the second-floor apartment, then prepared the truck for fire attack. Firefighters entering the main entrance observed heavy fire and black smoke through an open door at the top of the stairs and advised incoming units of possible entrapment and the immediate need for rescue crews and establishment of water supply.

Two arriving firefighters donned breathing apparatuses and were assigned to advance the hoseline into the structure from the entry door and to perform a search and fire attack. As a third engine arrived, its crew was assigned to assist the search and fire attack with a second handline through the south entrance doorway. Meanwhile, a ladder truck prepared for aerial operations, while another crew was sent to a second stairwell and tasked with proceeding to the third floor and pulling down ceiling sections to contain fire spread.

Crews searched apartments adjacent to the unit on fire, but the attack line to the involved unit was unable to advance due to the heavy fire conditions. It was determined that master stream operations represented the best means of attack due to the extreme fire load, and all fire units in the south end of the building were subsequently ordered to evacuate. After the fire was brought under control, the victim was located in the fire-involved apartment during salvage and overhaul operations. Firefighters turned the scene over to investigators from the state fire marshal’s office and assisted the coroner with removal of the victim.

The building was 300 feet (94 meters) by 40 feet (12 meters) in size, with a wood frame and asphalt shingles. Apartments were equipped with smoke alarms in bedrooms, kitchens, and living areas, but the building had no sprinkler system. The fire caused an estimated $1 million in damages to the building and $500,000 in losses of building contents. Investigators were unable to determine the cause of the fire.

Gasoline vapor explosion kills one, injures two

NEVADA—A gasoline vapor explosion in a residential garage at a three-unit housing complex claimed the life of one man and seriously injured another, while a third person suffered smoke inhalation injuries when she attempted to put out the fire with a fire extinguisher.

The fire department received a 911 call reporting the explosion at 9:35 p.m. First-arriving units were at the fire scene within four minutes. In addition to starting a fire in the garage and two vehicles, the blast had also started a fire in one of the housing units, which was spreading vertically up the exterior of the unit and beginning to spread horizontally to the two adjacent apartments. Due to the heavy fire conditions, the alarm was upgraded one level and an additional truck and two engines were dispatched to the scene.

Crews assigned to extinguishment began attacking three main areas of fire involving the garage, the exterior of the home on the second floor, and the vehicles, while other firefighters placed the two burn victims on gurneys and prepared saline bags to be administered during transport to the hospital. After noticing a disturbance in a crowd of people gathered near the street, firefighters suspected that there may be another patient, and discovered the female victim. They began supplying her with oxygen and she was also transported to the hospital.

Police had earlier evacuated all units of the complex, but firefighters searched the apartments adjacent to the fire and pulled ceilings down to check for possible fire extension. Crews knocked down remaining hot spots in the garage and checked the garage area for any additional safety hazards involving flammable liquids.

Investigators determined that the garage in which the two male victims had been working contained open containers of gasoline and that both men were engulfed by fire when gasoline vapors ignited, by the pilot light of a water heater or a furnace. Inside the house, the female victim felt the force of the explosion and looked outside to see one of the victims on fire in the driveway. She ran outside to help the victims and suffered burn injuries while trying to extinguish the fire with a fire extinguisher that had been mounted on an exterior wall.

The incident was under control by 9:50 p.m. Red Cross assistance was requested for residents of three units who were displaced by the fire and the energy provider was directed to secure the utilities for those units. O victim succumbed to his injuries at a burn center the day after the fire.

Officials from the fire department were quoted in media reports as urging residents to keep combustible liquids in approved and sealed containers, and a local television station reported that the battalion chief stressed that, “You don’t want those containers open, releasing vapors into the garage. The majority of people have a water heater and furnace in the garage, and the vapors could find that ignition source and cause that fire.”

The fire resulted in damages estimated at $200,000 to the building, as well as $45,000 in damage to its contents.

Father, daughter die in blaze

NORTH CAROLINA—A house fire in a rural location claimed the lives of a 67-year-old occupant and his adult daughter, who had been summoned to the scene after her mother had cleaned out a wood stove and dropped embers on the floor while exiting the house.

Investigators were not able to identify the flooring materials, but fire from the embers traveled down the hall to a bedroom and living room in the one-story house.

The daughter drove immediately to her parents’ house after the phone call from her mother, but had no clear idea that a house fire was in progress. When she arrived at the house, about 10 miles from her home, the daughter entered the burning house at the rear and found her mother, who she escorted outside, then returned inside to locate her father, who had visual and mobility impairments.

While the daughter was in the house, a passerby saw smoke and dialed 911 but received an apparent busy signal, and another busy signal on a second call. The passerby then called her husband, who was an officer on a local rural board; he called 911, with the same result. He then called a local fire chief, who was unsure if the fire department had been dispatched and drove to the scene himself. Subsequently, the husband was able to get through to dispatchers after yet another 911 call, and it was at this point that the fire department was dispatched to the scene.

The house was fully involved when the fire department arrived on the scene 20 minutes after the fire was detected, with no chance to rescue the victims. The fire department extinguished the fire and preserved the rooms in which the victims were located.

An investigation into the reason for the apparent busy signals to 911 later determined that what the callers heard was a “beep and pause” holding signal while the call was transferred to the correct communications center. Because the residence was located in close proximity to three separate counties, it was easy for emergency calls to be diverted to the wrong communications center, and some cell phone carriers experienced holding signals, while others did not. The house and its contents, collectively valued at $55,000, were a total loss.

Smoking materials blamed for fatal home fire

KANSAS—A man died in a home fire when he apparently fell asleep on a couch while smoking.

The two-story, split-level ranch-style house was constructed of wood framing. A melted smoke alarm was found in the hallway of the second floor outside the bedrooms with a battery tested at 7 volts. Occupants stated they had purchased a new smoke alarm, but the man who died had disabled it because the alarm was frequently going off. There were no sprinklers in the home.

The fire was discovered by a neighbor who observed smoke and called 911 at 9:01 a.m. Firefighters arrived six minutes later to find smoke coming from the dwelling and heavy smoke from floor to ceiling in the interior. The engine crew was met at the front door with heavy fire rolling out of the top of the door. They entered and began to extinguish the fire in the entryway and living room, where the 55-year-old male occupant was sleeping on a couch. The man was removed from the house, but died the following day of burns and smoke inhalation.

Fire investigators found discarded cigarette butts, lighters, and burn holes in blankets and upholstered furniture throughout the home, especially in the first-floor living room where the fire started. Investigators indicated that consumption of prescribed medication was suspected of making the victim drowsy and unable to respond quickly to the emergency.

The home was valued at $200,000 with contents of $50,000. Structural losses were $70,000 and contents losses were $35,000.

Elderly man dies in home fire

KENTUCKY—An older man was killed in a house fire that also caused a partial collapse of the single-story structure.

The wood-frame, single-family dwelling measured 41 feet by 16 feet (12 meters by 5 meters). Investigators were not able to determine if smoke alarms were installed. Evidence near the occupant suggested he was awoken by the fire and attempted to put on shoes. There were no sprinklers.

A neighbor observed the house on fire and called 911 at 2:30 a.m. The home was occupied by a 79-year-old male who lived by himself. The fast-moving fire quickly engulfed the home, and when the fire department arrived eight minutes after the alarm, the front quarter of the home had collapsed into itself. Firefighters had to fight the fire defensively and found the body of the occupant after extinguishment. The victim died of smoke inhalation and thermal burn injuries.

Investigators found that the fire started in the basement near the utilities, which included an electrical panel as well as water service coming into the home. The entire basement was used for storage. Investigators found the electrical panel to have significant arcing inside, and damage was also noted on the water pipe coming into the home. The gas line entered the house at this location, but it is not suspected to have contributed to the fire.

The building, with an estimated value of $40,000, and the contents, valued at $30,000, were a total loss.

House fire claims life of elderly resident

SOUTH CAROLINA—A house fire claimed the life of a 72-year-old man after he ignited green firewood that had been soaked in hydraulic fluid and the fire spread from a wooden heater to nearby combustibles in his den, then into the main area of the house.

A passing motorist spotted the fire and called 911 at 3:20 p.m. and the fire department was dispatched by radio one minute later. The passerby informed dispatch that the fire was through the roof of the house when he placed his call. The fire department described the fire as in a free-burning stage through much of the structure when they arrived eight minutes later.

Crews made their initial attack on the fire at one end of the house where two bedrooms were located, but they were forced from the house due to intense heat and fire conditions.

Newspaper reports indicated that six fire departments responded to the scene and that flames continued to burn in the single-story residence for at least an hour as crews sought to extinguish the blaze.

The single-story house, 78 feet (24 meters) long by 34 feet (10 meters) wide, had a wood frame and joists and asphalt shingles. The house and its contents, collectively valued at $225,000, were a total loss.

ASSEMBLY

Fire damages mixed-occupancy building

ILLINOIS—A fire heavily damaged a two-story building that housed a restaurant on the first floor and apartments above.

The building measured 50 feet by 100 feet (15 meters by 30 meters). Construction type was not reported. Smoke alarms were present and operated, but no information was available on the type and location of alarms.

Occupants called 911 to report alarms sounding in the building and a smell of smoke at 3:46 a.m. Firefighters arrived and evacuated upper-floor occupants and searched for the area of fire origin. Smoke pushing from floorboards and door frames of a first-floor restaurant led fire companies to the basement, where they found high heat conditions and increasing smoke density. After receiving a report that the floor on the first floor was spongy, command evacuated all firefighters from the building for a defensive fire attack. Fire was observed coming from the first floor and out the front windows of the restaurant.

Additional resources were called and a combination of three elevated master streams and several hose lines were used to extinguish the fire. One firefighter suffered minor injuries.

The building and contents, valued at $5 million, suffered losses estimated at $3 million.

Stove near combustibles is blamed for restaurant fire

OREGON—Heat from a stove started a fire in a restaurant, but fire sprinklers were credited with controlling the fire until it was extinguished by firefighters.

The single-story, wood-frame building had a flat, built-up roof surface and covered approximately 3,675 square feet (341 square meters). The structure had a wet-pipe sprinkler system and a water flow alarm monitored by a fire alarm system.

Firefighters responded to a water flow and commercial fire alarm at the restaurant at 3:14 a.m. and arrived five minutes later. The property was closed for the night and unoccupied. Firefighters arrived to find smoke emitting from the roof and the interior charged with smoke. Command requested additional resources and began to size up the building until enough crews were on site to make an interior fire attack.

Upon entering the structure, firefighters searched for the origin of the fire and found a single sprinkler operating in the kitchen. Firefighters opened the wall space behind a gas-fired stove and found the nearly extinguished fire in the wall cavity. There were no injuries.

Investigators determined that the stove did not have the proper clearances to a combustible wall. Heat from the stove ignited the structural framing members.

The building was valued at $1 million dollars, with contents valued at $400,000. Damage was limited to $25,000 in structural losses and $5,000 in contents losses.

BRUSH FIRE

Elderly man dies from injuries sustained in brush fire

MICHIGAN—Firefighters responding to a reported fire at 3:42 p.m. arrived on the scene minutes later to find one acre of grass and brush burning behind a house, with the body of an elderly male lying approximately 20 feet from a burning lawn tractor.

According to a newspaper report, a neighbor on his way home saw heavy smoke behind the victim’s house and heard an explosion upon arriving. The neighbor called 911 after running into the yard and finding the victim on the ground with his feet still on fire.

The crew responding to the scene summoned rescue services for the victim, who suffered fatal smoke inhalation and burn injuries. Firefighters fought the grass fire, which also caused damage to an outdoor shed, and cleared the scene at 4:30 p.m.

The newspaper report indicated that investigators believe the victim started a fire to burn old grass and sticks and may have driven his tractor too close to the fire. Conditions were said to be dry, with gusting winds.

The fire caused property losses that were estimated at $1,000.

EDUCATIONAL

Sprinklers limit damage in technical school fire

MINNESOTA—A wet pipe sprinkler system extinguished an overnight fire in a Minnesota technical college classroom, limiting the damage to the room of origin.

The fire department was notified by a 911 dispatch after an automatic fire alarm detected the fire at 12:07 a.m. The fire began in a guitar construction classroom when a humidifier in a processing area experienced an electrical fault and ignited its plastic housing.

The facility was protected by a wet pipe sprinkler system throughout the building in accordance with the state fire code. A single sprinkler head operated to extinguish the fire.

The building was unoccupied at the time of the fire, and newspaper accounts reported that the fire was out by the time the fire department arrived seven minutes after receiving the call.

The single-story structure covered 20,000 square feet (1,858 square meters), with concrete walls, a concrete roof deck, and built-up rubber roof covering. Damage to the building was estimated at $500 and the contents loss was estimated at $2,000.

A newspaper cited the fire department as saying that “a working sprinkler system and alarm system made what may have been a tragedy into a moderate inconvenience.”

RELIGIOUS

Hot ashes start church fire, result in total loss

CANADA—Hot ashes used for a worship ceremony and placed in a storage room started a fire that ultimately consumed a two-story church building in an early morning blaze.

A heat detector in the storage room detected the fire at 6:45 a.m., but notification was delayed for several minutes when an occupant investigated why the fire alarm was sounding. A call was made to 911 after the occupant smelled smoke, and the fire department was on the scene at 7 a.m.

The church was located in a far corner of the city where there were no fire hydrants, and the church had no automatic sprinkler system or fire extinguishers. A newspaper report indicated that more than 17 fire trucks responded to the scene and that the fire burned for over two hours before it was extinguished.

The church, which was 2,150 square feet (650 square meters), was constructed entirely of wood. Investigators determined that the fire was ignited when hot ashes used in a worship ceremony were deposited in a plastic container and placed in the storage room located on the church’s main level.

Newspaper reports said the church was built with heavy timber and that detailed paintings of religious icons adorned the dome and a wall behind the altar. The church, valued at $3.5 million (Canadian currency), and its contents, with an estimated value of $1 million, were a complete loss.

MANUFACTURING

Static discharge ignites flammable chemical solvents

VIRGINIA—A flash fire, the result of static discharge igniting chemical fumes, occurred in a chemical manufacturing plant and resulted in minor injuries to an employee.

The single-story, steel-frame manufacturing building had masonry block walls, a metal deck roof, and measured 300 feet by 200 feet (91 meters by 61 meters). It was operating at the time of the fire. The building included a fire detection system, fire walls, fire dampers, and windows, which all operated as designed and minimized loss.

The fire began in a mixing room when an employee moved, and began to fill, a 55-gallon drum of mixed solvents. A flash fire occurred as the employee filled the container. The fire burned around the drum and equipment nearby. An automatic foam sprinkler system activated to extinguish the fire. Employees used dry-chemical portable fire extinguishers to put out the few small fires remaining.

The wet pipe foam sprinkler system provided full coverage and water flow, and the fire detection system was monitored by a central station alarm company.

Investigators found that the dolly used to move the drum was fitted with rubber wheels and did not properly ground the drum, causing the build-up of static electricity. As product was being poured into the drum, the vapors were ignited by a static discharge. The victim, a male in his 30s, received first-degree burns. He was evaluated and treated on scene and did not require hospitalization.

The building and its contents were valued at an estimated $5 million and sustained estimated combined losses of $15,000.

MERCANTILE

Candle blamed for fire in store; sprinklers limit damage

ARIZONA—An early morning fire at a retail business was largely extinguished by the store’s sprinkler system before firefighters arrived to complete extinguishment and conduct salvage operations.

The fire department was at the scene of the fire, located in a central occupancy at a strip mall, within five minutes of receiving the alarm at 3:02 a.m. Arriving firefighters discovered that a single sprinkler head located closest to the area of fire origin had almost entirely extinguished the fire, preventing it from spreading to other combustibles.

Investigators determined that a burning candle was the most likely source of the fire and that it had ignited items on display along one of the walls.

Firefighters removed two charred cardboard boxes from the burn area and placed them outside on the sidewalk, then searched for other possible ignition sources. Crews cleared the scene by 4:07 a.m.

“These people will be able to occupy their business Monday morning,” the fire chief told a local news report. “If there was a fire without a sprinkler, they would be out of business.”

Fire damage was confined to the area of fire origin. Damage to the store’s contents, valued at $200,000, was estimated at $30,000, while the property, with an estimated value of $2 million, experienced just $500 in property damage.

SPECIAL PROPERTY

Space heater fire kills mother and toddler daughters in RV

OREGON—Bedding that was placed over an operating space heater was blamed for a fire that killed three people in a recreational vehicle.

The fire occurred in a parked fifth-wheel travel trailer, which measured 35 feet by 8 feet (11 meters by 2 meters). The steel-frame had lightweight wood walls and floors, with the exterior walls and roof covered by aluminum. There were no smoke alarms.

A male occupant left the travel trailer to go next door to his parents’ Class A motor home to take a shower, leaving his wife and two children. Approximately 15 to 20 minutes later, he returned to the travel trailer to find fire engulfing the interior of the vehicle. The fire department was called at 6:30 a.m. and arrived to find that the fire had spread from the trailer to the mobile home and also to trees and brush nearby.

The mother and two girls, ages 14 months and two years, died of smoke inhalation and thermal burns.

Investigators determined that the fire started in the bedroom area of the travel trailer and spread to other combustibles. The estimated value of the vehicles was $5,000, with contents valued at $1,000. The trailer was a total loss.

STORAGE

Man dies using paint thinner to stoke woodstove fire

TEXAS—A 22-year-old man pouring paint thinner into a wood-burning stove to kindle a fire suffered fatal burn injuries when vapors ignited and flashed back into a 5-gallon can.

The fire occurred in a single-story storage building constructed of steel, with metal walls and roof, measuring 30 feet by 30 feet (9 meters by 9 meters). There were no smoke alarms or sprinklers.

A portion of the building was used as a shop; a cast-iron, wood-burning stove was operating and providing heat. When the man poured the paint thinner into the stove and fire flashed up and into the can, the bottom of the can failed and allowed additional flammable liquid to spill and ignite.

The building was valued at $5,000 with contents of $7,000, and had losses of $2,000 for the structure and $3,500 for contents.

Fire in manufactured home kills elderly woman

NEW YORK—A fire that went undetected for at least 30 minutes claimed the life of an elderly female in her manufactured home.

The county fire department was notified by a 911 call within two to three minutes after the fire was detected at 11:54 p.m., but fire officials estimated that the fire had been burning for more than 30 minutes before it was detected by a neighbor due to the remote location of the structure.

The fire began in a wooden attachment that housed the furnace for a double-wide manufactured home. Investigators indicated that the furnace was out of fuel oil and the victim was keeping warm by using two electrical space heaters and an electric blanket that were plugged into the same circuit. They determined that overheated electrical wiring ignited the wooden framing at the floor level of the attachment, with the fire then spreading up the studs until breaking out at the ceiling level, eventually consuming the living space of the home.

The victim, described as having limited mobility, died of smoke inhalation and burns. The house was equipped with two smoke alarms, but they lacked batteries and were inoperable.

The home, a one-story structure 12 feet (4 meters) wide by 12 feet long, had a wooden frame and metal roof. The home, valued at $60,000 to $70,000, and its contents, valued at $10,000, were a total loss.

Woman dies in house fire that spread from shed

INDIANA—An early morning fire that began in a shed traveled to a single-family home and claimed the life of a 71-year-old woman.

The wood-frame detached shed was connected to the home by a wooden deck. The wood-frame, single-story home had a brick veneer and a composition roof surface. It covered an area of approximately 1,200 square feet. The home had a smoke alarm located outside the bedroom, but it was not determined if the alarm operated. There were no sprinklers.

The fire began in the rear shed and spread to the wooden deck, entering the single-family dwelling through a patio door and roof soffit. The two occupants, an older couple, were asleep when they discovered the fire at 3:36 a.m. The man called 911.

The fire department responded to the report of a structure fire with occupants still in the building. Command did a walk around the building and noted fire had spread from the shed to the deck and up the sidewall of the home, entering the concealed attic/roof space via vinyl soffits. The interior of the home had a high heat condition and the front door had been left open by the husband and police.

The husband, who had managed to escape the fire, tried several times to reach his wife inside the home and had to be pulled from the home by the police. Firefighters found the victim in the hall of the master bedroom and moved her to the front of the building where EMS was waiting, but the woman died of smoke inhalation injuries.

Investigators identified the area of origin beneath a workbench in the shed where an electric portable heater was plugged into an outlet and was operating. They could not determine if the fire was the result of a failure of the heater, electrical connections, or combustibles too close to the heater.

The home was valued at $125,000 with contents of $100,000 and had $100,000 in structural losses and $75,000 in contents losses. Three firefighters suffered minor injuries during the blaze.

Man dies in smoldering house fire

MAINE—A residential fire of indeterminate origin claimed the life of the home’s occupant.

The single-story, wood-frame home had a wooden roof covered by asphalt shingles. The 650-square-foot (60-square-meter) home did not have any smoke alarms or sprinklers.

A neighbor reported smoke coming from the house and alerted the fire department at 12:12 p.m. Emergency crews arriving at the property six minutes later found the dwelling filled with smoke and evidence of a smoldering fire. The house was ventilated, but almost immediately flashed over when fresh air entered the home. Heavy fire engulfed the entire interior of the home as command ordered an exterior defensive attack until the fire could be knocked down. Firefighters entered and found a deceased 55-year-old male on the bed in the bedroom.

The cause of the fire could not be determined, but is believed to have started in the first-floor bedroom.

The home, valued at $200,000, and its contents, valued at $20,000, were a total loss.

One dies, three injured as fireplace ember starts house fire

CALIFORNIA—A 60-year-old man died and three female residents were injured in an early morning house fire that started when wind blew a fireplace ember onto a nearby sofa and the resulting fire rapidly spread, cutting off escape through the front door.

The house was a one-story, 2,600-square-foot (241-square-meter) structure. Investigators reported that the house was missing a window near the area of fire origin due to remodeling work and that there was no protective glass or screen in front of the fireplace. When a gust of wind entered the house through the window opening, hot goals were blown onto the sofa and spread to other combustibles. One of the home’s residents called 911 to report the fire at 7:10 a.m.

Newspaper reports indicated that the male victim was found by firefighters in a front bedroom. The female residents were reportedly taken to the hospital with moderate injuries. The reports also indicated that firefighters brought the blaze under control in approximately 40 minutes.

The fire caused an estimated $125,000 in damage to the structure and $25,000 in damage to its contents. The house had no working smoke alarms or sprinkler system.

Space heater blamed for house fire that kills two

KENTUCKY—A house fire that began when a space heater ignited combustible materials claimed the lives of two residents, both of whom succumbed to smoke inhalation injuries.

The fire department dispatched ladder and engine trucks to the scene following a 911 report of a possible structure fire at 8 p.m. While the crews were on-route, the dispatch was advised of a confirmed fire with entrapment, and second and third alarms were requested for additional units and an ambulance.

Size-up of the scene by first-arriving teams found heavy, dark grey smoke emitting from the second floor and roof area of the two-story home, with a large amount of smoke also coming from a doorway on the first floor. Crews stretched hoses to the front door and as a backup line for the first entry teams. Additional access doors were located on each side of the house and on the second floor leading to an exterior deck. While size-up of the scene was underway, fire also breached a window on the first floor of one side of the house.

A third resident of the house, a grandson of the victims, had managed to escape via the second-floor doorway after being awakened by heavy smoke. He informed firefighters that he believed his grandparents were in a rear bedroom on the first floor of the house.

Two firefighters entered the house through the front door but were only able to advance 10 to 15 feet before encountering intense heat and fire, at which point they began to attack the fire. Meanwhile, a search team of three firefighters removed a window and entered the master bedroom where the victims were believed to be. They found a heavy fire load while searching the room with a thermal imaging camera, then moved to the hallway and searched multiple rooms without success.

As the initial attack and search crews were relieved by arriving units, firefighters worked to gain entry to the second floor to search for the victims. Windows were removed from the second floor and horizontal ventilation was initiated, but crews were limited to a defensive and exterior fire attack until fire and smoke conditions permitted a further attack. Firefighters cut a hole in the center of the roof and began positive-pressure ventilation, and crews then began entry into the second floor after knocking down fire from the exterior, stretching hoses from two sides of the house.

Search crews made entry to the second floor to continue the search after most of the fire had been extinguished and ventilated. The victims, a 66-year-old male and a 64-year-old female, were found about 12 to 15 feet (3 to 4 meters) apart on the second floor. Both victims were reported to have health problems that limited their mobility.

The house, 70 feet long (21 meters) by 27 feet (8 meters) wide, had a wood frame and decking, with asphalt shingles. Investigators determined that the fire originated in the first-floor hallway near the kitchen, where a space heater ignited nearby combustibles. The fire spread to a wooden support beam and across the ceiling to the kitchen area, then into the second floor through an HVAC vent. They also found that the house had no working smoke detectors and that a door from the master bedroom that led directly outside was nailed shut as a security measure, blocking the exit. In addition, they noted that large quantities of hoarded material made it difficult to move within the structure.

The house and its contents, with a combined value of $130,000, were a total loss.

Smoking materials likely cause in deadly apartment fire

MASSACHUSETTS—A nighttime fire claimed the life of a 58-year-old man who lived in a third-floor unit of a four-story housing complex.

The fire department was alerted by an automatic municipal fire alarm at approximately 9 p.m. A second alarm was struck even before the first responding units left the station when a report was received of fire showing through an apartment window.

Upon arrival, firefighters gained master keys and examined the building’s alarm panel, noting that two third-floor zones had been tripped. Police officers already on the scene directed them to the unit where the fire was located, and crews negotiated a stairwell clogged with evacuating residents as they made their way to the third floor, where they observed light to moderate smoke in the hallway.

Finding the apartment’s entrance locked, firefighters used a master key to unlock the deadbolt and spotted flames through the jamb crack as they did so. Two firefighters immediately began searching for occupants while others began extinguishment. The victim was quickly located and pulled to the door, where he was put in the care of an EMS crew, which had arrived with a stair chair for evacuation.

Investigators determined that the fire originated in the area of a sofa bed in the unit’s living room. A large ashtray full of cigarette butts was found at the front edge of the sofa bed, and investigators identified smoking materials as the most likely cause of the fire, although electrical wiring in the area of origin was not ruled out as an ignition source.

The victim succumbed to smoke inhalation and thermal injuries following his evacuation.

Newspaper reports indicated that the apartment building was previously a furniture factory and that renovations took place before building codes were updated to mandate functioning sprinkler systems in all apartment buildings.

The building, valued at $2 million, suffered losses estimated at $150,000, while damages to the apartment’s contents were estimated at $25,000.

Fire claims two when wood stove ignites synthetic clothing

CALIFORNIA—Two people died in an overnight fire that started when synthetic clothing placed on or near a wood stove ignited and spread to nearby combustibles and to the residence’s paneling, eventually extending to both ends of the structure. According to a press report, three other occupants evacuated the residence before firefighters responded to the fire.

The property was a rail car that had been converted into a residence. It had no smoke alarms or sprinkler system.

The fire department was notified of the fire at 2:30 a.m. following a 911 call by an occupant of the residence reporting the fire. Response was delayed due to a misrouted call to the dispatch center and the inability of the dispatcher to receive a physical address because the call was received on nonstandard Public Service Access Point (PSAP) equipment. The local fire department eventually identified a possible nearby address and dispatched a full structure response.

A fire department press release cited by a local newspaper indicated that the first-arriving engine company found moderate smoke coming from windows and the entry door of the structure. One of the residents who had escaped the fire reported that two residents were still inside, and the press release was reported to indicate that crews made entry, extinguished the fire, and located the two victims.

The fire department reported that escape routes for the victims were cut off by the extension of the fire to both ends of the former rail car.

The structure was 70 feet (21 meters) long and eight feet (two and a half meters) wide. It had a metal exterior with wood interior paneling. The structure and contents, with a collective value of $25,000, were a total loss.

Overloaded junction box blamed for deadly house fire

ILLINOIS—An overnight house fire claimed the lives of a young father and his infant son, but firefighters were able to rescue the mother, who suffered smoke inhalation injuries.

The fire department received a cell phone call reporting the fire at 2:40 a.m. from one of the residence’s occupants. Firefighters reported heavy smoke and flames coming from a window at the front of the house upon their arrival.

Crews made a forced entry at the front door and began to knock down the fire. As they arrived, they reported that police officers were at a basement window trying to evacuate an occupant. After hearing screams, the police officers contacted dispatch and requested that a return call be made to the mother and to direct her to the side of the basement where they were positioned. After kicking open the basement window, the officers encountered a studded wall that was finished with paneling, but then kicked the paneling off and made contact with the mother. The mother stood on a bed and officers pulled her to safety.

Upon learning from the mother that her husband and infant were in the kitchen, firefighters made a forced entry at the rear of the house, where they immediately found the two victims. The infant was taken to a waiting ambulance and transported to the hospital, while CPR and defibrillation were initiated on the husband in the backyard before his transport to the hospital. A newspaper report indicated that both the infant and father were pronounced dead at the hospital.

After the fire was extinguished and utilities shut off, investigators identified the area of fire origin as a junction box in a hallway ceiling. They found that seven electrical lines were wired to the junction box and that one two-wire electrical line had separated from the box. Because there was no cover on the junction box and they could not find one in the debris, the investigators believe that cellulose insulation in the attic covered the junction box, trapped the heat, and smoldered as the box heated, lowering the ignition temperature of the wood and ceiling material below. They noted that complete burn-through on the ceiling joist to which the junction box had been attached and that the physical properties of the ceiling material allowed for a quicker fire spread. After eliminating all other possible ignition sources, the investigators identified the cause of the fire as an overloaded junction box.

Although the main level of the house was equipped with carbon monoxide and smoke alarms, investigators could not determine if they had operated because batteries had melted to the units. A smoke alarm in the basement did not have batteries.

The single-story house was 57 feet (17 meters) long and 30 feet (9 meters) wide and had a wood frame with asphalt shingles. Damage to the structure was estimated at $51,300, with an estimated loss of $82,100 to its contents.

Smoking materials start apartment fire, claim victim

OHIO—Firefighters responding to an early morning fire were able to rescue a woman who was trapped by smoke and fire on the second floor of a two-story apartment building, but the victim succumbed to her injuries in the hospital three days later.

The firefighters first to arrive found heavy fire and smoke issuing from the end unit of a four-unit apartment building just one to two minutes after a 911 call reporting the fire at 6:10 a.m. Firefighters were told by police on the scene and dispatch that three people were trapped inside the building and a request was made for two mutual-aid companies.

Firefighters stretched a hose to the front door of the building and began attacking the fire, which had originated on the first floor of the complex. An advanced life support team was assigned search-and-rescue responsibilities and immediately went to the second floor, where it encountered high heat and smoke conditions. Firefighters who were laying a water supply from a hydrant were called off in order to assist search efforts. The dispatch, which had an open phone line with the victim, could hear units getting closer to the victim’s location, and this information was relayed by command to firefighters.

Firefighters from a newly arriving engine company were tasked with completing the water supply from the hydrant and then ordered to break windows on the second story with a pike pole and position a fan for ventilation. As the fire was knocked down, the victim was located by rescue crews on the second floor and transported to the hospital, while search operations continued for any additional occupants. No other occupants were found after secondary searches of the building. It was later determined that two occupants of the first-floor unit where the fire originated had managed to escape.

Investigators determined that the fire began when smoking materials ignited the foam cushion of a loveseat in the first-floor living room. The units were equipped with hardwired smoke alarms but did not have sprinkler protection. The fire caused $20,000 in damage to the building and $15,000 in damage to building contents.

Man dies after being pulled from burning home by neighbor

PENNSYLVANIA—A late-afternoon house fire was punctuated by a neighbor’s dramatic rescue of a male resident from the second floor, but the resident succumbed to smoke inhalation and burn injuries several hours later in the hospital.

The fire began at about 4:30 p.m. in a bedroom on the second floor, where extension cords ran across the floor underneath a mattress and rugs. Investigators determined that heat from the extension cord ignited the mattress and bedclothes and spread through the home.

News reports indicated that the neighbor looked out her window and saw flames coming from the back of the victim’s house and called 911 from a cell phone as she made her way up the street. After pounding on the victim’s door to find out whether anyone was home, the neighbor heard yelling from the second floor as the victim’s mother opened the door. According to news reports, the neighbor then ran upstairs and found the victim lying on the top landing with his clothes on fire. The neighbor attempted to extinguish the flames with the coat of a passerby who also stopped to help, and then, with the mother and passerby, began to pull the victim down the stairs as the fire intensified.

The fire department indicated that the neighbor, a trained medic with 10 years of service in the U.S. Army, was pulling the victim out of the front door as they arrived. Investigators indicated that intoxication was a factor that impeded the victim’s ability to escape.

The house and contents, valued at $43,260, suffered $41,260 in losses.

Elderly resident dies when space heater starts house fire

TEXAS—An elderly man died in a fire that began when radiant heat from an electric space heater ignited nearby combustibles and spread throughout his two-story home.

The fire was detected at about 8:30 a.m. by a family member who lived next door and called 911. Investigators determined that the fire started in a first-floor kitchen when magazines or newspapers near the space heater ignited, and that the fire then spread to a large amount of hoarded materials stacked along interior walls, moving from the kitchen to the living room and up an open stairwell to the second floor.

News reports indicated that the fire completely consumed the house and that the victim was discovered in the kitchen some two hours after the fire began, with one witness stating that the house looked “like a huge bonfire.” Firefighters needed to cut holes in the walls in order to remove hoarded materials and extinguish the fire.

Investigators indicated that the victim had a mobility impairment and relied on a walker, potentially hampering his ability to escape. He died at the scene as a result of fire and heat injuries.

The house and its contents, with an estimated value of just under $93,000, were a total loss.

Cooking fire claims life of elderly resident

CALIFORNIA—An elderly resident of an apartment complex for senior citizens died of smoke inhalation and burn injuries after an open flame ignited her clothes while she was cooking.

The fire department report indicated the victim was unsuccessful in extinguishing the flames and was overcome by smoke and fire while trying to escape. The victim’s son discovered the fire when he arrived at the house and found it filled with black smoke upon entering. He made his way to his mother’s bedroom, but was quickly overcome by smoke and exited the house to call 911. The fire department received the alarm at 10:21 a.m. and was on the scene five minutes later.

First-responding firefighters found the victim on the floor near the kitchen entrance, with a wooden chair fully involved with fire laying against the victim’s feet. One firefighter carried the victim outside and placed her on the ground, while another provided advanced life support until an ambulance arrived to transport her to the emergency room. Inside the house, firefighters quickly extinguished the burning chair, as well as a fire atop the gas stove. The victim succumbed to her injuries in the hospital later that day.

The victim lived in an apartment approximately 800 square feet (74 square meters) in size, consisting of a living room, bedroom, bathroom, utility room, and kitchen. The apartment, part of a multi-unit complex, had a functioning smoke alarm in the hallway that was sounding when firefighters arrived, as well as a residential sprinkler system, which did not operate.

Investigators described damage to the property and contents as limited, but provided no dollar estimate of losses.

Minor damage as car fire is extinguished by sprinkler

MINNESOTA—A fire that started in the engine compartment of a vehicle parked inside a residential garage was extinguished by an automatic sprinkler system before the fire department arrived, preventing the fire from spreading to other areas of a multifamily townhouse complex.

The fire began after a resident replaced the vehicle’s sparkplugs and inadvertently left a socket wrench in the engine compartment. When the vehicle began to run erratically on a test drive, the resident returned home and parked it in the garage and went inside the house to clean up. Not long afterward, he heard a loud popping sound and went outside to investigate, where he discovered that the vehicle’s engine was on fire. He attempted to extinguish the fire himself, but was forced to halt his efforts and evacuate as smoke built up in the garage. The fire department was summoned to the scene by a water flow alarm and calls to 911, but a single sprinkler head located near the garage door had extinguished the fire before units arrived.

After shutting down the sprinkler system and ventilating the space, investigators determined that an arc caused by the wrench had ignited plastic and rubber inside the vehicle’s engine compartment while the vehicle was running.

The condominium complex consisted of 10 townhouses, collectively valued at close to $2 million. The fire chief was quoted in a local newspaper as stating that, “One little sprinkler head controlled the fire and kept it in check until the fire department got there. They only cost about one percent [of the] total cost of a new home.”

Damage to the garage and vehicle from the fire were collectively estimated at $25,000.

RICHARD CAMPBELL is a senior analyst for NFPA. Top Photograph: John Terhune/Journal & Courier