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

Firewatch

Fire incidents from across the country

BY RICHARD CAMPBELL

Aircraft

FLORIDA

Aircraft engine fire leads to plane evacuation and injuries

Units from a county fire department responded upon receiving an Alert 3 (crash) report from a local airport. Crews reached the scene less than two minutes after notification, where they found a Boeing 767 on an airport taxiway with one engine on fire and fire extending under the wing. Evacuation of the aircraft from the side opposite the fire was in progress.

The first-arriving apparatus set up in front of the burning engine and began discharging foam from a bumper turret, sweeping the fire beneath the engine before applying foam to the engine and wing. The truck was forced to reposition alongside the engine after smoke conditions worsened due to a shift in the wind, then began applying a dry-chemical suppression agent to the fire as two additional trucks attacked the fire at the rear of the engine.

Incident command requested a second alarm for hazardous materials teams and five additional medical units to report to the staging area.

As crews attacked the fire, emergency medical personnel were establishing triage operations at two locations for approximately 100 passengers and crew members who had evacuated via emergency slides. Fire department reports indicated that 22 people were transported to the hospital for treatment, most of whom were treated and released, according to newspaper accounts. One injury was described as serious.

The fire was knocked down and complete evacuation of the aircraft was confirmed approximately two minutes after attack operations had begun.

Newspaper coverage reported that the plane was taxiing to the departure runway when its left engine began to leak fuel, prompting the pilot in a following aircraft to warn of the leak. The aircraft had requested to taxi back to the terminal when the fire broke out. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) reported that the main fuel supply line coupling assembly had disconnected above and behind the left engine. NTSB sent a four-person team to investigate the incident.

Residential

WASHINGTON

No smoke alarms in house fire that claims life of occupant

Firefighters were dispatched to a residential structure fire following several calls to 911 at 3:15 p.m. reporting heavy black smoke and flames coming from a single-family home. Callers reported that the home was believed to be occupied by a woman with a mobility disability and that bystanders had attempted to look for the occupant but were driven back by heat.

The battalion chief was first to arrive on the scene. The structure was described as 80 percent involved with fire and it was determined that crews would mount a defensive fire attack. Approximately 45 minutes after operations began, firefighters were able to enter the structure and found the occupant near a sliding glass door at the rear of the house, where she had succumbed to smoke inhalation injuries.

After the medical examiner removed the victim’s body, the fire department arranged for an overnight fire watch to maintain security until investigators returned in the daylight to examine the scene. Investigators determined that the fire originated in the living room, but could not establish a clear cause due to the amount of destruction.

The home was not equipped with smoke alarms.

The house was a two-story wooden structure with a ground-floor area of 1,000 square feet (93 square meters). The house and contents, collectively valued at $325,000, were a total loss.

UTAH

Home sustains large losses when lightning strike ignites fire

No one was home when a mid-afternoon lighting strike ignited a house fire that caused extensive damage before it was extinguished by firefighters.

Firefighters were dispatched to the fire following a 911 call that news reports attributed to a delivery driver who saw smoke coming from the house. Three engines reportedly responded to the fire, which the fire department believed was likely to have ignited approximately one hour before detection.

Investigators determined that after lighting struck the home, fire spread to the home’s lower and main floors.

The house, a two-story structure with a ground-floor area of 6,500 square feet (604 square meters), was not equipped with automatic fire sprinklers. The district’s public information officer indicated in news coverage that most houses in the area were equipped with sprinklers, noting that they significantly reduced the likelihood of catastrophic fire.

The house, valued at $2.5 million, suffered an estimated $1 million in damage, with an additional $250,000 in damage to its contents.

NORTH CAROLINA

Electrical fault blamed for fire that kills one

Investigators blamed a house fire that claimed the life of one resident on an electrical fault in an overloaded extension cord.

Residents of the house reportedly called 911 after investigating a popping sound in a den area and discovering a small fire spreading up the wall.

Two police officers who were first to reach the scene entered the house to evacuate an occupant, but were driven out by intense flames and heat when the occupant reportedly struggled with the officers. Firefighters arrived a short time later and were advised that the resident was still inside, but a large explosion occurred as they began operations, forcing them to mount a defensive attack.

Crews located the body of the occupant inside the residence a short time later. Reports indicated that the victim’s ability to escape was hindered by a medical condition. The explosion was caused by a large medical oxygen tank.

Investigators determined that the fire originated in an enclosed carport that was being used as a den, where they found an extension cord with multiple items plugged into the cord and the outlet. The investigators indicated that a weak point of the cord failed and caused arcing, which ignited wall coverings and proceeded to spread.

The house was equipped with a single smoke alarm in a hallway outside the bedrooms. Firefighters were unable to determine whether it operated.

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

The house, valued at $75,000, as well as its contents, with an estimated value of $20,000, were a total loss.

WEST VIRGINIA

Man dies in apartment fire with no working smoke alarms

One person was killed in an apartment fire that investigators said was likely caused by smoking materials.

Firefighters were summoned to a multi-unit apartment building at 3:45 a.m. after a resident smelled what she described as an unknown odor. Upon arrival, firefighters could smell something burning but saw no signs of fire from the exterior.

Inside the caller’s apartment, firefighters noted that the smell of smoke was less strong and found no signs of fire after checking utilities in the basement. Firefighters returned outside and began to check other units. They observed light smoke through the window of one unit and noted a strong smell of smoke near the door, but were unable to get a response from the occupant after repeatedly knocking on the door. After forcing their way inside, crews reported light smoke throughout the unit. They found the occupant unconscious in an upstairs hallway and transported him outside for medical attention.

As medical personnel attended to the occupant, firefighters reentered the apartment and found a small smoldering fire in a room being used as an office, which they extinguished with a single handline. Crews then ventilated the apartment through second-floor windows.

The occupant was later pronounced dead from smoke inhalation injuries.

A fire department report indicated that the apartment was moderately full of rubbish, including large quantities of cigarette butts. Investigators determined that rubbish inside the office was the first item ignited and indicated that smoking materials were the most likely source of ignition.

Firefighters found one smoke alarm in the apartment, but it was missing a battery and failed to operate.

The apartment complex was a two-story structure comprised of eight apartments covering a ground-floor area of 3,356 square feet (321 square meters). The building was constructed with a wood frame and brick walls, with wood floor and roof framing and asphalt shingles.

The fire caused an estimated $2,000 in damage to the structure and $3,000 in damage to its contents.

MASSACHUSETTS

Two perish in house fire started by smoking materials

Firefighters were dispatched to a house fire at 7:43 a.m. following multiple phone calls from passers-by.

Shortly after being dispatched, an engine company reported that a heavy black column of smoke was visible some distance from the site, leading incident command to request an additional engine, in addition to two engines and a ladder company that were already en route.

First-arriving crews reported a fully involved structure fire as they reached the scene, with occupants reported to still be inside. Crews prepared to initiate an interior attack, but incident command requested that a fourth engine be dispatched to serve as a rapid intervention team.

Incident command reported that fire and thick black smoke was discharging from the front, rear, and one side of the house, and that fire was issuing from the roof in the rear. Crews deployed four handlines and two rapid-attack nozzles to attack the fire and made multiple unsuccessful attempts to enter the structure for a rescue. As the roof began to sag and floor joists fell into the basement, incident command ordered all units to restrict operations to exterior attack.

Crews maintained their exterior fire attack until the fire was extinguished. Cuts were made in the roof in order to spray streams onto hot spots in the attack. When it was determined safe to enter, crews found a female occupant on the first floor and a male in the basement. Incident command requested the Red Cross, a chaplain, and a rehab unit to the scene.

Newspaper reports indicated that three other occupants were alerted by smoke alarms and were able to escape the fire.

Investigators determined that the fire originated in the basement when smoking materials ignited ordinary combustibles, then spread to furnishings and eventually up a stairway to living areas on the first floor.

The house was equipped with a smoke alarm on the first floor. Reports indicated that the alarm sounded and alerted the female victim, who had a mobility disability.

The house was a single-story structure with wood construction and asphalt shingles. It occupied a ground-floor area of 800 square feet (74 square meters).

The house and its contents, valued at $160,000, were a total loss.

MINNESOTA

Sprinkler contains dryer fire in laundry room

Firefighters were called to an apartment complex at 10:50 a.m. by a central station alarm monitoring company after an automatic detection system was activated by smoke from a fire in a laundry room.

News reports indicated that the fire occurred in a dryer on the second floor of a three-story structure. The accounts reported that a single sprinkler had activated and was controlling the fire when firefighters arrived. Firefighters were said to have removed the dryer and ventilated the building to clear the air of smoke.

The fire department reported that clothing inside the dryer ignited and that the fire was confined to the dryer until the door was opened, when enough heat escaped to activate the sprinkler in the laundry room.

The building was a wood-frame construction with a ground-floor area of 24,000 square feet (2,230 square meters).

The fire caused an estimated $25,000 in damage to the building, valued at $3,970,000, and $5,000 in damage to contents, which were valued at $1,588,000.

ILLINOIS

Two die in residential explosion and fire sparked by propane leak

Two residents were killed in a house fire that was ignited when a newly installed propane stove exploded.

Firefighters were summoned to the scene by a neighbor’s 911 call at 9:42 a.m.

Investigators determined that the fire started in a utility room on the lower level, where a propane stove had been installed the previous day. An undetermined ignition source ignited propane that was leaking from the stove.

Newspapers reported that the blast was strong enough to blow a garage door 35 feet into the driveway. The fire chief described the fire as very hot and very intense.

The house was a single-story structure with a wood frame and walls and a roof covered with asphalt. It occupied a ground-floor area of 1,750 square feet (163 square meters). The house was equipped with battery-operated smoke alarms, which operated.

The house and its contents, collectively valued at $450,000, were a total loss.

ARKANSAS

One dies, two injured in unattended cooking fire

A house fire that started when cooking materials ignited claimed the life of one resident and injured two others.

The fire department responded to the scene with two units after receiving a 911 call reporting a structure fire at 11:31 p.m. Upon arrival, crews reported smoke emitting from all sides of the house, with the largest concentration coming from the center. Bystanders informed fire department personnel that two people were inside the structure.

The first-arriving crews entered the house to locate occupants and were followed by a second team. Crews extinguished the fire while searching the house and were able to locate a child in a bedroom closet. They evacuated the child and began resuscitation efforts outside. The second occupant, an adult male, was located after crews forced entry into a utility room, and he was also moved outside for resuscitation efforts. Crews continued CPR on both victims until ambulance personnel arrived and assumed life saving measures before transporting the victims to the hospital.

The adult male later succumbed to his injuries. In addition to the child, who suffered serious smoke inhalation injuries, a second occupant suffered a minor injury while escaping.

Investigators determined that the fire originated in the kitchen after a resident accidentally left the stove on, igniting cooking materials. Fire spread to structural areas of the kitchen and into an adjoining den area, sending high heat and smoke throughout the structure.

The house was a single-story structure constructed with a wood frame and brick walls. It had an asphalt shingle roof and occupied a ground-floor area of 1,800 square feet (167 square meters).

The fire caused an estimated $40,000 in damage to the structure, valued at $90,000, and an additional $25,000 in damage to its contents.

MARYLAND

Two injured in natural gas explosion that destroys home

Firefighters were dispatched by a report of an explosion and fire at a townhome at 7:19 p.m. The department’s ambulance was on the scene within three minutes of dispatch and reported heavy fire, with the collapse of a center townhouse and fire extension into adjoining townhouses on either side, one of which also experienced a partial collapse.

A second alarm was called with the arrival of the first suppression apparatus at 7:25 p.m., followed by a call for a third alarm when the incident commander reached the scene several minutes later.

Crews were informed that two people were missing: a gas company technician who was responding to a possible gas leak and an occupant of the partially collapsed townhouse. After ventilating the structure, crews entered the townhouse to search for the missing occupant, but were unable to locate anyone. The missing technician was found approximately 50 to 60 feet from his van, where he had been carried by the force of the explosion, injured but still alive.

Newspapers reported that firefighters spent over three hours extinguishing the fire. In addition to the three townhouses in which the fire was initially concentrated, three other adjoining units were determined to be uninhabitable, according to news reports.

The gas company technician and one civilian were transported to the hospital for treatment of traumatic injuries. Available information does not indicate whether the report of a missing occupant was a false report, but there were no fatalities or additional injuries as a result of the fire and explosion.

In post-incident interviews, investigators learned that a resident of one of the adjoining townhouses called the gas company after smelling a natural gas odor when she arrived home at 6:15 p.m. The responding technician investigated the odor in her home and advised that he needed to access a neighboring unit, where his meter recorded steadily climbing gas levels inside the garage. He then discovered that a gas pipe inside the garage was broken at the area of a 90-degree coupling.

The technician instructed residents to evacuate the building, then shut off the gas at the exterior of the structure and went to his truck to retrieve gloves in order to pull the electric meter and eliminate a source of ignition. He told investigators that the last thing he could remember prior to the explosion was opening the doors of his truck.

Investigators later learned that a resident of the center townhouse had earlier backed into the natural gas equipment while parking her vehicle in the garage. Investigators were unable to determine the source of ignition, but noted that there were multiple possible sources, including energized electrical devices.

In a newspaper account of the incident, a spokesperson for the gas company urged the public to immediately report any suspected gas leak after first moving to a safe location, cautioning that any electronic device could act as an ignition source.

Damage to the structure and contents of the townhouse where the explosion originated was estimated at $500,000. Damage to the additional units and contents was estimated at $2 million.

MICHIGAN

Apartments sustain large losses in fire started by smoldering cigarette

Firefighters were dispatched to a three-story apartment complex at 12:30 p.m. after a fire was spotted by a passing motorist.

A fire department officer who was first to reach the scene found smoke and fire showing through the roof on the east end of the building. The officer entered the main structure and began pounding on doors to make sure all residents evacuated, starting on the third floor and working down, then proceeded to an attached building to make sure residents of those units also evacuated.

A walk-around of the structure showed heavy fire at the back of the building. Before the first units reached the scene, a request was made for an additional ladder and engine from a mutual aid company, in addition to auto aid from a neighboring fire department. Crews from the first arriving engine stretched hose line to the third floor to begin fire attack. A second engine company laid a supply line and backed up the attack line.

Approximately three minutes after the interior attack began, high winds and the intensity of the fire led incident command to order crews out of the building and to mount an exterior operation only. Crews then set up master streams to attack the fire from the front and rear of the building.

Once the bulk of the fire had been knocked down, crews reentered the building to extinguish hot spots and conduct a secondary search of all apartments.

Following the release of mutual aid crews, local crews remained on the scene to help occupants retrieve personal belongings and provide assistance to property management and the Red Cross. News accounts reported that at least 15 people were displaced by the fire.

Investigators determined that the fire was ignited by a smoldering cigarette on an outside deck area of a third-floor apartment. The cigarette had been deposited in a large plastic bucket containing potting soil that also included 30 to 50 discarded cigarette butts, and investigators said that high winds brought the discarded cigarette back to ignition temperature, igniting other cigarette butts and the plastic bucket. Fire then spread onto an exterior wall and ran into the soffit, attic, and roof areas of the deck and apartment.

The complex was equipped with smoke detectors in apartments, common hallways, mechanical rooms, and laundry rooms. The fire department indicated that the detection system did not immediately operate while the fire was located in the attic space. The complex was not equipped with a sprinkler system.

The main building had a ground-floor area of 6,048 square feet (562 square meters) and was built with wood construction, with a floor framing consisting of concrete covered by wood between floors. It had an asphalt shingle roof.

The fire caused an estimated $850,000 in damage to the building, which was valued at $1 million. The building’s contents, valued at $300,000, were determined to be a total loss.

Vehicle

MASSACHUSETTS

Two killed when vehicle strikes utility pole and catches fire

Firefighters were called to a crash scene at midnight after a vehicle struck a utility pole, toppling the pole and causing transformers to land on the street, where they exploded and caught fire, engulfing the car.

Upon arrival, crews encountered a vehicle lying on its roof fully involved with fire. Crews reported that live power lines were arcing on top of the vehicle and that the transformers were on fire on the ground nearby.

Crews advanced a hose toward the vehicle, but were driven back by explosions from the burning vehicle. When it was determined to be safe to re-advance, crews knocked down what they described as heavy fire. Crews then extinguished hot spots and small bark mulch fires before clearing the scene.

Rescue and recovery of two vehicle occupants was delayed due to live electrical wires on top of the vehicle. Once the electrical company confirmed that the electrical lines were de-energized, the bodies of two deceased occupants were recovered. Both victims suffered burns and multiple injuries.

Investigators subsequently determined that the explosions that hindered suppression efforts were caused by small propane cylinders inside the car.

The vehicle and its contents, valued at $13,000, were a total loss. No estimates were available for other damage caused by the fire.

GEORGIA

Man injured when motorcycle ignites at gas pump

Firefighters were dispatched to a gas station shortly after 8 a.m. by reports of a motorcycle on fire and a civilian with burn injuries.

While units were enroute, they issued a request for medical air transport to respond to the scene. On arrival, crews found a motorcycle heavily involved with fire next to a gas pump, with its operator on the ground a short distance away, where he was receiving assistance from bystanders.

Medical crews assumed care for the injured operator while an engine company staged for water supply. A second engine company was diverted to a shopping area across the street to establish a landing area for the incoming helicopter. The first-arriving engine company used a pre-connect hose and tank water to quickly extinguish the fire, which was confined to the motorcycle, a pump, and an awning.

The injured driver was transported by ambulance to the medical helicopter, then flown to a burn center for treatment. Crews also provided medical treatment to a bystander for hand and leg burns sustained while assisting the victim, and transported the bystander by ambulance to a hospital.

Witnesses told investigators that the motorcycle was still running while the operator refueled it and that the fuel had begun to overflow just before the fire ignited. Video footage showed that fuel was on the ground behind the motorcycle and that the flash of fuel ignition appeared to originate near the rear exhaust tip.

Investigators concluded that the fire was caused by the ignition of gasoline vapors by the exhaust system of the motorcycle while it was running.

Damage to the motorcycle was estimated at $40,000.

No information was available on the injured victims.

Educational

MICHIGAN

Sprinklers extinguish weekend fire at preschool

Firefighters were dispatched by an alarm monitoring company to a child care facility on a weekend evening following the activation of automatic detection equipment.

According to news reports, firefighters found smoke coming from a kitchen, where a fire had already been extinguished by the facility’s sprinkler system.

Firefighters shut off the water to the sprinkler system and ventilated the building, which was unoccupied and closed for the weekend.

Investigators determined that, earlier in the day, workers at the site had placed a cardboard box on an electrical stove while doing work in the kitchen, inadvertently turning on a burner in the process. Heat from the stove eventually ignited the box, and the fire activated the sprinkler system sometime after the workers had left the building.

The building was of wood construction with a concrete slab floor and a wood roof deck covered with asphalt shingles. The single-story structure occupied a ground-floor area of 5,263 feet (489 square meters).

Losses from the fire were estimated at $4,000.

Assembly

FLORIDA

Sprinkler contains fire caused by clothes dryer malfunction

Firefighters were dispatched to a lounge fire after occupants noticed smoke and called 911. At approximately the same time, the fire department was also receiving notification from an alarm monitoring company that the facility’s sprinkler system had activated.

Arriving crews observed light smoke showing from the front of the building. All occupants had evacuated the building. Inside, crews found that the automatic sprinkler system had activated in a storage room and successfully contained the fire to a clothes dryer. Crews completed extinguishment and shut off the water flow from the sprinkler head. Crews ventilated smoke from the building before clearing the scene.

Investigators determined that towels had ignited inside a clothes dryer due to an unspecified equipment malfunction.

The lounge was protected by a wet-pipe sprinkler system, with full-facility coverage. One sprinkler head opened in response to the fire.

The lounge was a single-story structure occupying a ground-floor area of 10,000 square feet (929 square meters). The building was constructed with a concrete block exterior and wood interior, wood roof framing and deck, and asphalt shingles.

The fire caused no damage to the structure, valued at $850,000. Damage to the contents, valued at $637,000, was estimated at $2,000.

Fire Station

VERMONT

Electrical fault in pumper blamed for fire that damages fire department

A call to 911 from a passing motorist shortly after 6 a.m. alerted volunteer firefighters to a fire at their own fire station.

Firefighters who first reached the scene reported heavy fire in the truck bay in the station’s west end, with fire breaching the door and fire showing on the roof. All turnout gear and equipment were in the building, but crews were unable to make entry due to the extreme heat.

According to news reports, firefighters arrived with the department’s only remaining truck to begin attacking the fire, and were soon joined by firefighters from several mutual aid companies. Crews were able to bring the fire under control at approximately 11:15 a.m.

Investigators determined that the fire started in the engine compartment of a rescue pumper when plastic material was ignited by a suspected electrical fault, then spread through the cab and extended beyond the vehicle.

The fire station was constructed of steel, with concrete and brick walls, a steel roof frame, and a metal roof deck with a rubber membrane. It occupied a ground-floor area of 3,000 square feet (279 square meters).

The fire caused an estimated $850,000 in damage to the station’s contents and $850,000 in damage to the structure.

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: Getty Images