Victim’s clothing ignites while she cooks
INDIANA — The son of an 87-year-old woman returned home just after 4:00 p.m. to find his house heavily damaged by smoke and his mother fatally burned in the kitchen.
The single-family, wood-frame house covered an area of 900 square feet (84 square meters). It had no sprinklers or automatic detection system, and investigators could not determine whether smoke alarms were present.
The police and fire department received a frantic 911 call from the son at 4:12 p.m. saying that his mother was lying on the floor, burned, and that she had no pulse.
When firefighters arrived, they found the woman dead and noted that a cabinet under the sink was charred. The heat had melted a hole in a water line feeding an ice maker in the cabinet, and the leaking water helped contain the blaze. The fire was mostly confined to the victim.
Investigators found a pan of food still sitting on the gas-fired stove, the control knob of which was in the “on” position. Based on the evidence, investigators determined that the woman unintentionally ignited her clothing while cooking breakfast after her son had left for work.
The house and its contents, which were valued at $67,500, sustained damages of approximately $1,300.
Children playing with matches start fatal fire
PENNSYLVANIA — Children playing with matches started a fire that spread throughout their three-story house, killing a 57-year-old handicapped woman and two children.
The single-family home was of ordinary construction with a built-up roof, wood-joist floor framing, and a wooden roof deck. The structure was 41 feet (12 meters) long and 13 feet (4 meters) wide. A smoke alarm had been installed in the basement stairwell, but not on the remaining floors.
The children were in a secondfloor bedroom playing with matches when they set fire to combustibles lying under a pressed-wood desk. The flames spread through the open bedroom door to the hallway, then throughout the rest of the dwelling.
In addition to the woman, the fire killed a 5-year-old girl and a 2-year-old boy. A 22-year-old man, a 22-year-old woman, and a 23-yearold
woman were injured, as was a 44-year-old firefighter who suffered burns during suppression. The victims’ locations were not reported.
The house, valued at $58,000, and its contents, valued at $4,000, sustained property damage of $48,000 and $3,000, respectively.
Unattended grill ignites deck
TEXAS — Occupants of a single-family manufactured home left an operating propane-gas-fired grill unattended on a wooden porch. Heat from the grill, which had been modified to burn charcoal briquettes, ignited the porch, and the fire spread into the house, killing two children.
The one-story home was 75 feet (23 meters) long and 14 feet (4 meters) wide. Its exterior walls were covered with siding and the roof with asphalt shingles. Smoke alarms had been installed, but they failed to operate. There were no sprinklers.
An occupant of the home discovered the fire and called 911. Responding firefighters were too late to save a 6-year-old girl and a 4-year-old boy, who died of smoke inhalation. The two children were found in their bedroom.
Damage to the house, valued at $30,000, and its contents, valued at $10,000, was not reported.
A woman dies trying to extinguish fire
MICHIGAN — Her children escaped from their burning single-family home, but the 35-year-old mother remained in the house to fight the fire, fearing her husband was in the area of origin. Her 14-year-old son reentered the burning building and tried to pull her out, but she pushed him back outside.
The wood-frame, manufactured home was 70 feet (21 meters) long and 28 feet (8 meters) wide. Smoke alarms located at either end of the unsprinklered dwelling activated during the fire.
The fire, which started on a couch in the living room, spread to the window treatments, across the ceiling, and up to the roof. Responding firefighters found the woman’s body in a hallway not far from the exit, where she had succumbed to smoke inhalation. Investigators determined that a cigarette started the fire.
The building, valued at $85,000, and its contents, valued at $10,000, were destroyed. No one was injured.
Christmas tree fire kills one
ILLINOIS — A fire that started in a natural Christmas tree quickly spread throughout a two-story, single-family home before firefighters arrived, killing a 14-year-old boy.
The wood-frame house, which was 44 feet (13 meters) long and 24 feet (7 meters) wide, was constructed of balloon-type framing with an asphalt roof. It had a battery-operated smoke alarm, which operated, but its location was not reported. There were no sprinklers.
The fire began when ornamental lights on the Christmas tree in the first-floor living room failed and ignited the tree. The blaze spread to wall coverings and a couch.
The boy discovered the fire and woke his aunt as a smoke alarm began to operate. Both of them made it to the first floor, but investigators believe the boy stayed in the house or ran back into it in search of two cats.
Once outside the house, the aunt tried to call 911 on her cell phone, but discovered that the battery was dead. Heavy smoke prevented her from going back inside the home to search for her nephew, so she flagged down a car, which took her to a neighbor’s house where she called the fire department. She and the neighbor then returned to the house and broke a first-floor window in an attempt to release some of the smoke and find her nephew.
Unfortunately, this action only intensified the fire.
Arriving firefighters, who found the home nearly engulfed in flames, were told that the boy was missing. After they knocked down the heavy fire, they found him in a bathroom not far from his room. He had died of smoke inhalation.
The home, valued at $40,000, and its contents, valued at $5,000, were completely destroyed.
Three die as fire blocks exit
INDIANA — Three people, including a 1-year-old child, died in a fire that began near the only exit in the basement of a single-family house.
The first floor of the one-story wood-frame house contained a living room, a dining room, a kitchen, a bathroom, and three bedrooms. In the basement, which had a nearly open floor plan, there was a living area with three beds. A smoke alarm was present, but it did not operate.
Investigators determined that the fire started near the basement stairs, which led to the kitchen, and spread to a couch and air mattress nearby. The resident who discovered the fire spent 10 to 15 minutes trying to fight it instead of calling the fire department, and the alarm was delayed another 10 to 20 minutes while neighbors tried to rescue the basement’s occupants.
The fire department was finally notified of the fire at 12:30 p.m. Although firefighters arrived within three minutes of alarm, the house was already fully engulfed.
The delay contributed to the deaths of the child, a 38-year-old man, and a 38-year-old woman, all of whom succumbed to smoke inhalation. Damages were not reported.
Materials used to refinish floors ignite spontaneously
CALIFORNIA — A fire that started on the ground floor of a three-unit apartment building spread undetected through the floor joists to the unit above, killing its occupant. The three-story, wood-frame building was 100 feet (30 meters) long and 50 feet (15 meters) wide. It had no smoke alarms, and there were no sprinklers.
An occupant who woke early in the morning to use the bathroom smelled an odor and woke her roommate. They looked around their apartment, but could not find the source. When the woman went to the bathroom, however, she discovered smoke coming through the floor.
Her roommate, who had left the apartment, saw flames downstairs and called 911 to report the fire. She then alerted the other residents, one of whom tried to put out the blaze with a portable fire extinguisher.
When firefighters responded to the 2:36 a.m. alarm, they found flames and smoke coming from the ground-floor storage room. As one crew forced the room’s door, a rescue company was sent to search the apartment above. When the firefighters found the door locked, they entered the apartment through a window and found an older woman dead in her bedroom.
Investigators found numerous cans of wood finisher near the area of origin, some carrying warning labels about proper storage. They discovered that rags soaked in the finisher had been stored in plastic buckets and determined that the rags had spontaneously ignited. The fire spread to clothing resting on the buckets and then to other combustibles and the building’s structural members. Investigators noted that the fire was a “slow, smoldering fire.”
The building, valued at $1.5 million, and its contents, valued at $100,000, sustained losses of $100,000 and $50,000, respectively.
Overheated extension cords leads to fatal fire
MASSACHUSETTS — A fire started by an overheated extension cord killed two occupants of a single-family home.
The two-story, wood-frame house, which was 30 feet (9 meters) long and 22 feet (7 meters) wide, had no sprinklers or smoke alarms. At the time of the fire, the house had not had a functional heating system for two years, and the residents relied on portable, oil-filled electric heaters. As a result, numerous electrical extension cords were strung across rugs and under furniture.
A neighbor saw the fire and called 911 at 6:00 a.m. Responding firefighters found the house fully involved in flames and noted that overhead electrical wires had burned through and fallen onto a metal fence.
Fire crews fought the blaze defensively until the electricity was turned off, then brought the blaze under control. When crews were finally able to enter the house, they found the two occupants, whose ages were not reported.
Investigators determined that the fire started in the first-floor living room at floor level and spread throughout the house.
Damage to the home, valued at $98,400, was estimated at $55,000, and damage to its contents, valued at $10,000, was estimated at $9,000.
Smoking on oxygen causes deadly fire
COLORADO — A 72-year-old woman who often smoked, even though she was on a home-assisted oxygen breathing apparatus, died in her home in an early-morning fire caused by her smoking materials.
The ranch-style, wood-frame house, which was 30 feet (9 meters) long and 28 feet (8 meters) wide, had exterior brick walls and an asphalt roof. It had neither smoke alarms nor sprinklers. The single-family home was occupied by the victim and two other adults.
One of the occupants awoke to the fire and called 911 at 4:12 a.m. Arriving police officers tried to enter through the front door, but they were driven back by high concentrations of heat and smoke.
However, one officer was able to remove a number of oxygen cylinders stored near the doorway, while others helped two occupants get out of the house through a front bedroom window. The fire quickly filled the living room window and the front door.
Fire crews arrived within five minutes of alarm and found heavy flames coming from the front and rear of the building. Just as an engine company was preparing to enter the front door with a hose line, they saw a white flash, heard a “whoosh” sound, and were driven back. A firefighter who fell on the ice while stepping away from the house injured his knee.
Meanwhile, knocking down the blaze as they went through the house, the interior fire crew found the body of the 72-year-old woman, who had obvious burn injuries.
Investigators discovered that the fire started in the living room where the victim often slept and where they found an oxygen concentrator, a lift chair, a wheel chair, and other items the victim used. They determined that a cigarette ignited her upholstered chair and that the fire spread from the living room to the kitchen and bedrooms.
The woman, who was terminally ill, often smoked in the living room and had occasional episodes of unconsciousness during which she dropped her cigarette on the furniture, resulting in burn marks. She normally lit her first cigarette of the day around 4:00 a.m., which is consistent with the fire’s time frame.
As the victim often watched television with the volume turned up, the other two occupants slept with their doors closed, a barrier that provided enough time for their rescue.
The home, valued at $140,000, and its contents, valued at $20,000, sustained damages estimated at $70,000 and $16,000, respectively.
Sprinklers control fire in manufacturing plant
KANSAS — Sprinklers controlled a fire in a manufacturing plant that began when propane leaking from a cylinder that was used to produce lead batteries ignited.
The single-story, metal-frame plant in which the fire occurred had metal walls and a metal roof covered by asphalt. The building, which was occupied at the time of the fire, had a dry-pipe sprinkler system and a monitored water flow alarm. There were no smoke alarms.
Earlier in the evening, maintenance crews had been called in to repair the the 100-pound (45-kilogram) cylinder’s fittings. About two hours later, employees heard a loud pop, followed by banging sounds and an explosion.
The alarm company and a plant employee notified the fire department at 1:49 a.m., and responding firefighters arrived within two minutes to find that the sprinklers had contained the blaze and that employees were evacuating the structure. All they had to do was extinguish some burning plastic battery casings. Reports that two employees were still in the building were inaccurate.
Investigators determined that the propane cylinder’s valve assembly malfunctioned and released propane gas, which was ignited by one of several open flames nearby. The cylinder shot some 35 feet (10 meters) from its original location, although it had not been breached.
Occupants heard at least three explosions. The fire activated 21 sprinklers, which controlled the fire until firefighters could extinguish it.
Damage to the building and contents is estimated at $2 million. No one was injured during the incident.
Sprinklers control manufacturing plant fire
NEBRASKA — Sprinklers kept a fire from spreading out of an unprotected area in a building in which manufactured homes were built.
The steel-frame building was one and a half stories high and measured 100 feet by 100 feet (30 meters by 30 meters). It had metal exterior walls and a metal roof, and its interior wood studs were covered in gypsum board. A wet-pipe sprinkler system that provided coverage to most of the building was not monitored, and the plant had no smoke detectors.
The fire was discovered at 7:20 a.m. by an employee arriving for work. It had started under a boiler in an unsprinklered utility room under a wood-frame mezzanine when sawdust ignited.
The smoldering fire spread horizontally, then vertically, consuming the utility room’s wood framing. Once it spread out of the room, eight sprinklers activated to control the flames. By the time firefighters arrived, they only had to put out hot spots the sprinkler spray could not reach.
Damage to the building, valued at $400,000, is estimated at $42,000. Damage to its contents, valued at $700,000, is estimated at $30,000.
Dryer vent fire damages mercantile building
NEW HAMPSHIRE — A fire that started on the second floor of a mercantile building quickly spread to the attic, heavily damaging the building. The fire detection system activated, although the fire was first discovered by an occupant.
The two-and-a-half-story, woodframe building, which measured 150 feet (46 meters) by 50 feet (15 meters), had a wood-truss roof covered with asphalt shingles. Its fire detection system included a combination of smoke and heat detectors throughout the structure, including the attic. The building had no sprinklers.
The owner of a day spa on the second floor had just finished washing and drying towels when she noticed smoke and fire coming from the electric dryer.
She threw some water on the blaze and, assuming she had extinguished it, went to talk to the owner of the business directly below hers, who was investigating the source of the water coming from the ceiling.
When she returned to her business, she discovered that she had extinguished the fire after all and called 911.
Shortly afterward, the building’s automatic fire detection system operated.
Responding firefighters found heavy fire coming from the gable end of the roof and immediately ordered a second alarm.
When they entered the building, however, they saw light smoke, but no visible fire.
Investigators determined the fire started when an accumulation of lint in the dryer’s exhaust vent, which terminated in the attic, ignited, and the fire spread to the attic, where it vented from the building. The point of origin was about 4 feet (1 meter) from the dryer discharge and 3 feet (0.9 meters) from the floor. The dryer showed no signs of failure.
The first floor sustained water damage as a result of extinguishment. The building, valued at $1 million, and its contents, valued at $250,000, sustained combined losses of $950,000. There were no injuries.