Natural gas leak causes explosion and fire
MASSACHUSETTS — Six people were injured in a fire in a two-family, wood-frame home that started when a gas water heater ignited an uncontrolled release of natural gas leaking into the house.
Six college students occupied the two-and-a-half-story, unsprinklered house. Smoke alarms were reportedly located on all floors, but investigators could not be sure because of the extensive damage.
A police officer was nearby helping a construction crew that was digging up the road when the house exploded and collapsed. Approximately 10 seconds later, a second explosion occurred, and fire was seen in the debris. The officer called the fire department at 11:08 a.m., and firefighters arrived within minutes to find 75 percent of the house involved in fire. A house next door was also damaged and threatened by fire when crews arrived. Firefighters used large master streams to control the fire, then multiple hand lines to extinguish it.
Investigators determined that gas entered the home under pressure and that it ignited with explosive force when it reached the basement water heater.
The house, valued at $220,000, and its contents, valued at $110,000, were destroyed. The house next door was condemned, and several other homes and some vehicles were also damaged. The six victims, who were taken to area hospitals with serious to minor injuries, ranged in age from 21 to 47.
Candle starts deadly fire during power outage
KANSAS — Candles used during a power failure started a fire that killed a mentally challenged nine-year-old girl, despite sounding smoke alarms.
The fire occurred in a wood-frame, eight-unit apartment building that covered approximately 13,300 square feet (1,236 square meters). The apartments were each two stories high with interconnected smoke alarms in each bedroom, the hallway, the living room, and the kitchen. The alarms had battery backup and operated as designed. The building had no sprinklers.
A thunderstorm passing through the area caused the power outage, and the apartment’s occupants lit candles in some rooms, including the master bedroom. The candle in the master bedroom fell from the bookshelf it was on and ignited combustibles in the room.
A bystander heard the apartment fire alarm sounding and called the fire department at 11:57 p.m. The first-arriving engine found smoke coming from the apartment, and witnesses reported that a child was trapped on the upper floor.
Crews advanced a 1 3/4-inch hose line to the second floor and extinguished the fire, which was confined to the master bedroom. The girl was found unconscious under a baby mattress in another bedroom.
Investigators determined that the fire, which was unintentional, began in the master bedroom between the bookshelf and television stand.
The apartment sustained $25,000 in property damage and $5,000 in damage to its contents. Heavy heat and smoke damaged the second floor. The cause of the girl’s death was high levels of carbon monoxide.
Man dies in cooking fire
PENNSYLVANIA — A 28-year-old man died in an early-morning fire that began when food he left cooking unattended ignited, filling his single-family house with smoke.
The unsprinklered, one-story, wood-frame house had two smoke alarms. The alarm in a bedroom operated, but the alarm in the living room had been removed from the ceiling and had no batteries.
Police officers on their rounds smelled smoke just after 2:00 a.m. and searched the streets until they found its source. The home’s front door was locked, so they went around the back and through unlocked sliding porch doors, then forced the rear door open.
Despite heavy smoke, the officers found the victim kneeling on the living room floor and dragged him to the front lawn, where the ambulance crew pronounced him dead.
Firefighters, who received the alarm at 2:25 a.m., arrived minutes later to find the fire nearly out.
The house, valued at $175,000, sustained $60,000 in property damage, and its contents, valued at $30,000, sustained $15,000 worth of damage. The victim was intoxicated at the time of his death.
Fireworks start fatal fire
ILLINOIS—A 19-year-old man died and two firefighters suffered minor injuries during a fire that began when fireworks ignited at floor level in his second-story bedroom.
The two-story, wood-frame house was 52 feet (16 meters) long and 25 feet (8 meters) wide. The single-family home had smoke alarms, but there were none on the second floor.
Occupants of the home called 911 at 4:30 a.m. to report the blaze, and firefighters arriving about seven minutes later extinguished the fire. They found the victim lying on the floor of his bedroom and took him to the hospital, where he succumbed to his injuries.
The house and its contents, valued at $125,000, sustained damage estimated at $50,000. The fire department and the police were involved in the investigation.
Gasoline, ammunition in fatal fire
OREGON — An 82-year-old man died of injuries sustained in a fire in his manufactured home that began when the vapors from 36 gasoline or flammable liquid containers stashed throughout the home ignited. In addition to the dangers the gasoline presented, firefighters had to face exploding ammunition.
The wood-frame manufactured home, built in 1981, was 14 feet (4 meters) wide and 50 feet (15 meters) long. Investigators could not determine if it had any smoke alarms. There were no sprinklers.
A neighbor called the fire department to report an explosion at the property at 3:17 a.m., and firefighters arrived four minutes later to find heavy fire coming from the dwelling. They discovered the severely burned victim outside the home and took him to the hospital, where he died of his injuries.
Investigators found parts of the home barricaded and gasoline containers in every room, including the covered porch. It appears that an unknown source ignited gasoline that had been poured into heating vents and other areas. The victim was injured when the gasoline vapors ignited, but was able to evacuate the dwelling.
The fire destroyed the home and its contents, valued at $60,000, and damaged a vehicle.
Code violation discovered in apartment building fire
MASSACHUSETTS — A cutting and welding contractor removing part of a metal stairway without permits started a fire in some rubbish in the stairwell of a three-story, wood-frame apartment building.
The building had a sprinkler system and a fire detection system, both of which were connected to a municipal fire alarm.
Firefighters responding to the alarm at 6:21 p.m. found light smoke in the first-floor hallway and saw water coming out the entry. When they opened the storage area below the stairwell, they found that a single sprinkler had extinguished the fire, which began when sparks from a cutting torch ignited the rubbish in the stairwell.
Firefighters discovered that the welder had removed part of the front stairway, the building’s primary egress, from the second to third floor. The fire chief, building inspector, and property manager determined that alternate housing would be provided for second- and third-floor residents.
A fire watch was maintained to protect the first-floor occupants until the sprinkler and fire alarm systems were returned to full service.
The loss from the fire is estimated at $200. There were no injuries.
Oily rags start fire in home under construction
CALIFORNIA — A single-family house under construction was destroyed by an early-morning fire that began when oil-soaked rags left in the garage ignited.
The unoccupied two-story, wood-frame house covered approximately 4,600 square feet (427 square meters). A sprinkler system had been installed, but the valve providing water to the system was shut off. The fire detection had yet to be installed.
Firefighters responding to a 911 call at 12:13 a.m. were unable to save much of the structure. Investigators determined that the fire started in the garage in a bucket containing cotton rags soaked in linseed oil and spread into the house and up to the second floor. Apparently, the rags combusted spontaneously.
The house, which was valued at more than $1 million, was destroyed. There were no injuries.
Apartment fire started after ashtray emptied
PENNSYLVANIA — A fire that began when an ashtray emptied into a trash can ignited its contents damaged an apartment in an eight-story building for low-income older adults. Fortunately, the detection systems worked as designed and alerted occupants.
The steel-frame building, which was 150 feet (46 meters) long and 70 feet (21 meters) wide, had concrete block walls, poured concrete floors, and a metal-over-steel roof covered with rubber and crushed stone. There were local smoke alarms in the apartments and interconnected, hard-wired smoke detectors with pull stations in the common hallways. A wet-pipe sprinkler system provided coverage only in the hallways.
The fire started when the resident of a third-floor apartment emptied an ashtray containing a smoldering cigarette into a trash can before leaving the apartment. The cigarette eventually ignited the trash can’s contents, and the fire spread throughout the apartment.
A maintenance person called 911 at 9:09 a.m. Responding firefighters extinguished the fire, which had activated a sprinkler in the hallway.
Smoke damaged floors four through eight, and water damaged floors one through three. The total loss was estimated at $1 million. One firefighter suffered a minor injury.
Smoke detectors alert residents, fire department
COLORADO — The fire detection system of a high-rise apartment building housing older adults operated when a fire began in a 16th-floor unit, notifying the occupants and the fire department. Firefighters managed to extinguish the blaze and limit loss to the apartment of origin. The 66-year-old woman who lived in the apartment was admitted to the hospital with life-threatening injuries.
The smoke detectors in the hallways and individual units of the 18-story independent living center were monitored by a central station alarm company. Although the building had no sprinklers, it did have a standpipe system that included an exterior fire department connection. During the fire, however, an obstruction in the pipe just beyond the connection prevented firefighters from boosting pressure in the standpipe system. The firefighters also had difficulty connecting hoses to some of the standpipe connections.
Firefighters at the scene of another fire nearby were notified of the alarm at the apartment building at 2:57 a.m. The first chief officer on scene saw smoke coming from a window and requested a full response. Noting that the fire alarm panel reported several activations on the 16th floor, he ordered firefighters to advance to that location. When they did, they found the victim in the stairwell on that floor, with second- and third-degree burns on her arms and legs, and first- and second-degree burns on her face. She also suffered from smoke inhalation.
While the woman was taken to the ground floor for treatment and transport, firefighters forced their way into the affected apartment, where they found the bedroom fully involved. They extinguished the fire before it spread to other units.
Investigators determined the cause of the fire based on physical evidence and the victim’s statement that she had fallen asleep while smoking. Heat from the burning cigarette ignited her bed linen and heavily damaged the bedroom and the rest of the apartment.
Investigators also found an oxygen concentrator in the living room in the “on” position. The attached tubing was melted and severed at the bedroom door.
Investigators were unable to determine if the patient was wearing an oxygen cannula when the blaze began.
In addition to the burned woman, five other building residents were taken to the hospital, and two were kept overnight for observation.
Smoking, home oxygen fire
COLORADO — A 56-year-old man who used oxygen unintentionally ignited the oxygen tubing while smoking a cigarette in his bedroom.
The single-story, wood-frame apartment building contained eight units in a side-by-side configuration. The unit of origin, which had about 750 square feet (70 square meters) of living space, had neither smoke alarms nor sprinklers.
One of the apartment’s three occupants was asleep on a couch in the living room when she was awakened by a pop that sounded to her like a firecracker. She sat up and saw flames coming from the end of the oxygen tubing, which was flying about in the man’s bedroom. She called for a neighbor to help her get the man out of the burning room. They then evacuated without injury.
Investigators determined that the man fell asleep while smoking and that the burning cigarette ignited the oxygen tubing and the bedding. Statements by the occupants and a neighbor suggested that alcohol contributed to the fire. Ironically, the man who started the fire had suffered facial burns while smoking on oxygen two years earlier.
The building, valued at $537,000, sustained losses of $10,000. The resident of the next unit was displaced due to water damage.
Smoke kills 100-year-old woman
NEBRASKA — A 100-year-old woman with a hearing impairment died in a fire that started in her single-family home’s heating system and spread until it was detected by a neighbor. The woman did not have her hearing aids in place, and investigators believe the smoke alarm was not loud enough to alert her to the fire without them.
The unsprinklered, single-story, wood-frame house was 60 feet (18 meters) long by 30 feet (9 meters) wide. Its smoke alarm was located in the hallway near the bedrooms.
Investigators determined that the fire began in a basement furnace. It was an older model that required the operation of certain valves, and the investigators think the woman was unsure what position the valves should be in. When the furnace operated with the return line shut off, it malfunctioned and started the fire, which was not detected until smoke reached the upper level.
The house, valued at $100,000, and its contents, also valued at $100,000, were destroyed.
Visually impaired woman dies in house fire
KENTUCKY — A woman with a visual impairment died of smoke- and heat-related injuries when a fire started on or near a recliner in her living room.
The unsprinklered, single-family, wood-frame house had a brick veneer and covered approximately 2,400 square feet (223 square meters). The fire department report states that investigators could not determine whether the house had any smoke detectors.
Firefighters received several calls from passersby and neighbors at 6:08 p.m. reporting that smoke was coming from the house and that a woman was trapped inside. Fire crews responding within four minutes found heavy black smoke coming from the rear of the house and the windows covered with soot. Witnesses told firefighters that the woman, who was alone, was still in the house in the front room.
A fire crew entered the house and, despite the smoke obscuring visibility above knee level, quickly found the victim’s body on an end table by the front door. The firefighters extinguished hot spots in the living room and kitchen. Fire damage was limited to the living room and adjacent areas, although there was heavy smoke damage throughout the house.
The victim, whose age was not reported, had been on the phone with relatives about 15 minutes before the fire was detected.
Investigators could not determine the cause of the fire or what prevented the woman from evacuating.
Damage to the structure, valued at $85,000, was approximately $50,000; damage to its contents was estimated at $20,000.
Trailer occupant dies in fire
CALIFORNIA — Neighbors awoke to an explosion and found a travel trailer in which a man was living engulfed in fire. The trailer, which was about 9 feet (3 meters) wide and 35 feet (11 meters) long, was located on property containing a manufactured home, sheds, and a workshop.
Firefighters responding to the blaze at 3:51 a.m. found the trailer well involved. It wasn’t until they extinguished the fire and spoke to witnesses that they learned someone might have been in the trailer. They found the victim under debris.
The cause of the fire is undetermined. It is not known whether any smoke alarms were present.
Property loss was estimated at $10,000.
Fire consumes business
CALIFORNIA — An intense fire that began in a storage yard behind a floor-covering business spread to the structure, several vehicles, and apartments, destroying the business.
The main two-story building, which was 100 feet (30 meters) long and 70 feet (21 meters) wide, had brick walls. There was a wood-frame addition at the rear of the building and four apartments on the second floor. The storage yard was covered by a metal roof. It is not known whether fire detection or suppression equipment was present.
One of the business’ owners was in an apartment about an hour after closing time when he noticed smoke in the storage area. When he went to investigate, he discovered the fire. He tried unsuccessfully to extinguish it with a garden hose before trying to move machinery and a pickup truck, sustaining second-degree burns to his arms. The fire department received the alarm at 6:04 p.m.
Damage to the building is estimated at $320,000, and damage to its contents at $4 million.