A 70-year-old Ohio man and his 69-year-old wife died of smoke inhalation and burns in a fire in their single-family home. (Photo: David Coyan/Jackson County Time-Journal)
NFPA Journal®, November/December 2010
Two dead in space heater fire
OHIO — A 70-year-old man and a 69-year-old woman died of smoke inhalation and burns in a fire that spread from the living room of their single-family house to their bedroom. The one-story, wood-frame house had no smoke alarms or sprinklers.
A deputy sheriff on patrol saw the fire and called in the alarm at 4:58 a.m. Investigators determined that the fire started when a space heater in the living room ignited clothing, furniture, and clutter, although fire officers were unsure how the heater managed to ignite the items.
The fire destroyed the house and its contents, valued at $70,000.
Garaged boat fire spreads to home
FLORIDA — A boat in the carport of a two-family home ignited early in the morning, starting a fire that heavily damaged the house.
Firefighters arrived four minutes after a 3:49 a.m. call to the fire department and found half of the house involved. The first-arriving engine used two pre-connected attack lines to knock the fire down and keep it from spreading further.
Firefighters from mutual-aid companies positioned a third hose line at the rear of the house to provide more water.
The house, valued at $50,000, and its contents, valued at $20,000, were destroyed. Firefighters took the occupants, who escaped after the battery-operated smoke alarm alerted them, to the hospital.
Cigarette fire kills one
NEW MEXICO — A 46-year-old man died of injuries he sustained in a fire that began in his bedroom in his single-family home.
The one-story, wood-frame house, which covered 900 square feet (84 square meters), had a hardwired smoke alarm with battery back-up in the hallway, but the wiring had been disconnected from the power source and the plug pushed back into the detector. A second battery-operated smoke alarm installed in the bedroom had no battery.
Firefighters responding to the 9:45 a.m. alarm from a neighbor who saw smoke forced their way into the house and found the victim 4 feet (1 meter) from the door. They immediately removed him, but he was pronounced dead at the hospital.
Investigators determined that the fire started in the bedroom, when a cigarette ignited the bedding. Fire damage, which was estimated at $15,000, was limited to the first-floor bedroom in which the fire began and to the adjacent hallway, although smoke damage was evident throughout the house.
Cigarette fire leads to death
OHIO — A 65-year-old man died when he was overcome by smoke during an early morning fire in his unsprinklered second-floor apartment.
The first floor of the two-story, wood-frame building was occupied by two stores, and the second contained four apartments.
The building, which was 80 feet (24 meters) long and 30 feet (9 meters) wide, had a brick veneer exterior and a flat roof covered by a rubber membrane. There were no smoke alarms.
An occupant of an adjoining apartment called 911 at 4:05 a.m. to report the fire. As firefighters played a hose line into the bedroom to contain the blaze, other crews used the fire escape to enter the apartment, where they found the victim overcome by smoke in the doorway of his bedroom. A couch pushed up against the window to the fire escape blocked firefighters’ access to the apartment and might have prevented the victim from escaping if he had tried to use that route.
Investigators determined that the man was asleep when smoking materials ignited his bedding and mattress and that he had tried unsuccessfully to escape through the bedroom door into the rest of the apartment. Alcohol impairment is believed to have contributed to his death.
The building, which was valued at $350,000, and its contents sustained $10,000 in damage.
Homeless person dies in abandoned house fire
ALABAMA — A 37-year-old man died in a fire in an abandoned single-family home in which he was living without utilities.
The single-story, wood-frame house, which was 33 feet (10 meters) long and 12 ½ feet (4 meters) wide, was dilapidated and had no smoke alarms or sprinklers.
A police officer on patrol reported the fire at 7:30 a.m., and arriving firefighters found the entire front of the house engulfed in flames. They first tried to fight the blaze from the rear, but couldn’t gain access through the boarded-up rear door, so they moved back to the front. Once they had knocked the fire down, firefighters found the victim on the floor between the living room and the bedroom.
Investigators found candles in the living room, along with lawn mowing equipment and stored gasoline, which contributed to the blaze. The victim was seen some four hours before the fire in an impaired state, which may have contributed to his death. He was related to the property owners, who told officials that they were aware he was living there.
The home had no real value, and its contents, valued at less than $1,000, were destroyed.
Cigarette fire kills disabled man
INDIANA — A 56-year-old physically disabled man died in his bedroom in a fire started by a cigarette.
The two-story, wood-frame apartment building had 16 units. Smoke detectors had been installed in each apartment’s bedroom and the hallway in a fire detection and alarm system. There were no sprinklers.
One or more occupants called 911 at 6:34 a.m. to report that a smoke alarm was operating and that there was smoke in the building. Responding firefighters were not sure whether there was a fire until they pulled up to the scene five minutes later to see flames coming out a first-floor window. As they aimed a hose line through the window to knock it down, they also saw a body inside the apartment. Entering through the front door, they used a thermal imaging camera to locate the victim and confirm there were no other occupants.
Investigators discovered that a cigarette had ignited combustibles on the bed in the room, but they could not determine which smoke alarms had operated or whether they had alerted the victim. They confirmed that the system was working, but they also noted that fire and smoke had spread out the window and away from the hallway detector.
The fire was confined to the victim’s apartment. Damage to the structure, valued at $300,000, was estimated at approximately $20,000. Its contents, valued at $10,000, were destroyed.
Sprinkler extinguishes apartment fire
WISCONSIN—A single sprinkler extinguished a fire that began when the occupant of an apartment turned on the wrong stove burner and unintentionally overheated a pan of grease that had been left on the burner.
The three-story, 24-unit apartment building, which was 210 feet (64 meters) long and 67 feet (20 meters) wide, had exterior walls of brick and an asphalt roof. It had a wet-pipe sprinkler system, which was monitored by a central station fire alarm company, and hardwired smoke detection equipment, which operated and alerted the building occupants.
The sprinkler in the kitchen activated and extinguished the fire before firefighters arrived. There were no injuries, and damage was not reported.
Oven used for storage leads to fatal fire
MASSACHUSETTS — A 71-year-old woman and her 72-year-old husband died of smoke inhalation injuries they sustained while trying to extinguish a fire in an oven used for storage.
The 1 ½-story, single-family, wood-frame house was 35 feet (11 meters) long and 30 feet (9 meters) wide. It had a single-station smoke alarm, but there were no sprinklers.
Investigators determined that the couple used the oven to store combustibles and inadvertently turned it on. After the heat ignited the stored goods, the pair tried to control the fire and called 911. They became disoriented, and succumbed to smoke inhalation. The woman died at the scene, and her husband died later in the hospital.
Fire damage to the house was limited to the area around the range, although heavy smoke spread throughout the dwelling. Property damage to the house, which was valued at $81,000, and its contents, valued at $75,000, was estimated at $10,000.
Unattended cooking leads to fire death
ALABAMA — A 54-year-old man died of smoke inhalation in a fire that started when he fell asleep after turning on the stove in his single-story, wood-frame home. The house, which covered approximately 1,300 square feet (396 square meters), had no smoke alarms or sprinklers.
Firefighters were called to the neighborhood at 9:23 p.m., and arrived about five minutes later to discover that the fire had nearly burned itself out. When they forced entry, they found a red-hot pan on the operating stove burner and shut the heat off. They discovered the victim on the floor roughly 50 feet (15 meters) from the kitchen, dead of smoke inhalation.
Investigators determined that the fire ignited the area above the stovetop and that smoke spread from the kitchen throughout the house.
The house, valued at $62,500, sustained $10,000 in damage. Its contents, valued at $10,000, sustained an $8,000 loss.
Stove fire kills one
NORTH DAKOTA — A 27-year-old died trying to extinguish a stovetop fire in a top-floor apartment of a three-story apartment building.
The unsprinklered wood-frame, 18-unit apartment building, which covered approximately 16,000 square feet (1,500 square meters), had a fire detection system that covered the common spaces and the apartments.
The fire activated the detection system at 11:10 p.m., alerting the resident of the unit next door. When the neighbor looked out his door, however, he saw nothing in the hallway and went back into his apartment. Minutes later, he heard water running and movement in the apartment next door and looked out again to find the adjacent apartment door open and smoke and heat filling the hallway. Crawling low, he left the building and called 911.
Arriving firefighters found the victim in his apartment. Investigators determined that he had turned two burners on to cook some food and suspect that either cooking oil spilled under the burners or food spilled on them and ignited. The resulting fire spread to the kitchen cabinets.
The fire damaged the building’s third-floor hallway, and the unit of origin, while heavy smoke spread to other units on the floor. The building and its contents, valued at $1.5 million, sustained losses of $215,000.
Elderly woman dies in cigarette fire
NEBRASKA — An 84-year-old woman who had recently had hip surgery died in a fire that started when a cigarette ignited her living room couch.
The single-family, single-story, wood-frame house, which covered 720 square feet (67 square meters), had a battery-operated smoke alarm, but the battery was about 17 years old and may not have been connected to the smoke alarm, according to investigators. There were no sprinklers.
The woman’s son discovered the fire when he went to see her a day after he failed to reach her by phone. When he arrived, he noticed smoke stains on the windows. After opening the door, he found his mother on the floor and called the fire department.
Investigators determined that the fire started in the living room where the woman, who lived alone, usually sat on the couch eating, smoking, reading, and watching television.
The fire apparently burned itself out. The house, valued at $63,000, and its contents, valued at $32,000, sustained damage estimated at $40,000 and $15,000, respectively.
Woman killed in single-family house fire
CALIFORNIA — A 62-year-old woman died in an early morning fire in her single-family home.
The one-story, wood-frame home, which measured approximately 1,600 square feet (149 square meters), had a battery-operated smoke alarm between the bedrooms and the living room. There were no sprinklers.
A neighbor, who was also the victim’s brother, discovered the fire at 2:14 a.m. and called the fire department. While waiting for firefighters to arrive, he heard a beeping sound, presumably made by the smoke alarm, coming from the house.
Arriving firefighters, who found flames coming from a rear corner of the house and smoke issuing from all sides, forced open a security door on the front of the house and entered with hose lines. During their primary search, they found the fully clothed victim lying in a dry bathtub. They removed her from the house, but she died of fire injuries.
Investigators determined that the fire started at table height in a bedroom, but they couldn’t determine the ignition source.
The home, which was valued at $100,000, and its contents, valued at $25,000, were destroyed.
Sprinklers control clothes dryer fire
MISSOURI — A single sprinkler activated and held an early morning fire in the laundry room at a residential board-and-care facility in check until firefighters arrived to extinguish it.
The facility, which occupied a one-story, single-family, wood-frame house, had hardwired smoke alarms that operated during the fire and a wet-pipe sprinkler system. Neither system was connected to a central station alarm company and provided only local alarms. At the time of the fire, six residents and one staff member occupied the facility.
The staff member heard noise coming from the dryer in the laundry room, as well as what sounded to her like a circuit breaker tripping, and went to investigate. When she saw the fire, she immediately alerted the occupants and evacuated them before she called 911 at 2:19 a.m. Firefighters arriving minutes later discovered a single sprinkler controlling the fire and used their hose lines to extinguish the blaze.
Investigators found that the piping supplying the three sprinklers in the laundry room was full of rust that blocked the flow of water, but a section of pipe feeding the kitchen remained operational and a fourth sprinkler in the adjacent kitchen operated and controlled the flames.
The value of the facility and the extent of the damage were not reported. There were no injuries.
Corroded fuel line leads to deadly explosion
TEXAS — A 74-year-old woman died in her home when she was trapped by falling debris and engulfed in flames after a propane line exploded.
The single-family, wood-frame house, built on wooden piers, had corrugated tin walls and a tin roof. It measured 1,152 square feet (107 square meters) and had no smoke alarms or sprinklers.
Emergency services received several calls to 911 at 1:30 a.m. reporting an explosion and two people trapped. The first emergency responders to arrive at the scene were the police, who heard an occupant trapped inside the burning house screaming. One of the officers called for fire extinguishers from the others and tried to enter the house to rescue the victim, whom he could see sitting upright but trapped in the debris.
Working his way around the rubble, he only managed to get halfway to the victim before she was engulfed in flames and he was forced to retreat.
Once outside, the same officer saw another woman crawling out of the debris. The officers confirmed that she was the other woman reported as still inside when they arrived, confirmed that she was not injured, and led her away from the burning house.
The four other occupants of the house escaped on their own and were taken to an emergency room, where one was diagnosed with a broken leg and a possible fractured pelvis.
After the fire was extinguished, investigators determined that the fuel line from the propane tank to a water heater in the bathroom had corroded, leading to a leak in the line and subsequent release of gas.
The homeowner told them he had discovered that there was no hot water and tried to light the water heater’s pilot light.
When he did, the fuel ignited, resulting in an explosion that caused the house to partially collapse and momentarily stun him. When he came to, he helped the two children in the house to escape and shut off the propane at the tank. His wife managed to escape on her own.
The fire destroyed the house, which was valued at $61,000, and its contents, valued at $40,000.
Electric blanket starts fire in bedroom
NEVADA — While extinguishing a fire at a manufactured home, firefighters discovered the body of a 73-year-old man who had been dead for several days before the blaze started.
Firefighters responding to the fire at 10:47 a.m. found smoke coming from the dwelling and forced their way inside, where they saw that the fire was confined to a mattress. As they extinguished the blaze, they saw the body of the victim on the floor, partially under the bed and covered by loose clothing.
Shortly after they discovered his body, they noticed signs that he had been dead for some time.
Investigators found the remains of an electrical cord running under the mattress from the foot of the bed up to the headboard. The cord was plugged into a control unit for a heating blanket, and investigators believed the blanket operated continuously between the mattress and the bedsprings from the time the man died until the fire broke out. The heat, which could not escape, apparently degraded the wire insulation, and the wire arced, igniting the mattress.
The fire department turned the investigation into the victim’s death over to homicide detectives.
Sprinkler extinguishes vent fire
ILLINOIS — A single sprinkler extinguished a fire in the vent system of a manufacturing plant before firefighters arrived on the scene. The three-story, steel-frame building’s wet-pipe sprinkler system was monitored by a central station alarm company.
Firefighters responding to a report of a roof fire and a 1 p.m. water flow alarm initially saw no evidence of fire when they arrived. On further investigation, however, they found that a sprinkler in a fume collector vent vacuum system had extinguished a vapor fire. They controlled the water flow and turned over the building to the owners for repair.
Investigators determined that an unspecified mechanical failure provided the heat needed for ignition.
The building, valued at $3 million dollars, and its contents, valued at $15 million, sustained $25 in damage.
Foundry suffers significant loss
WASHINGTON — Five hours after the last employee had left for the day, firefighters responded to a fire that started in a production line at a foundry.
The two-story, steel-frame building, which covered 23,400 square feet (2,174 square meters), had corrugated sheet-metal walls and a corrugated sheet-metal roof. The front portion of the structure contained offices and a mezzanine, while the rear contained the manufacturing area. Smoke detectors in the office and the sprinkler water flow were monitored by a central station alarm company.
Firefighters responding to the 8:48 p.m. call from the alarm company saw smoke showing from the roof and heard the sprinkler water flow alarm as they pulled up. Although sprinklers had been removed and plugged over most of the foundry floor before the fire because the owner feared a water discharge onto the hot furnace, four sprinklers did operate, causing the water flow alarm to sound. They had very little effect on the fire, however, because of the limited coverage. Firefighters managed to confine the blaze to the production area.
Investigators determined that the blaze started in a nonbake area of the production line and involved 55-gallon (208-liter) drums of chemicals with a flash point of 150oF (66oC). However, they could not determine the ignition source or the point at which the chemicals became involved.
The building, valued at $1 million, sustained $500,000 in damage. It’s contents, valued at $750,000, sustained estimated losses of $500,000. There were no injuries.