This Illinois hotel sustained more than $3 million in structural damage in a fire, the cause of which could not be determined. . (Photo: Joni Andrews/Pekin Times)
NFPA Journal®, September/October 2010
Fire damage to hotel exceeds $3 million
ILLINOIS - A fire that started in the attic of a 70-unit, three-story hotel burned until a passerby noticed it and stopped in to tell the manager, who called the fire department around 9:30 a.m.
The lightweight wood-frame hotel, which was 249 feet (76 meters) long and 58 feet (18 meters) wide, had a fire detection system that provided coverage in the occupied areas and a wet-pipe sprinkler system. The attic had no sprinklers, detection, or draft stops.
Responding firefighters saw fire coming from the center of the attic and spreading in both directions. The incident commander originally sent crews to the third floor but pulled them out of the building as the roof began to collapse within 15 minutes of their arrival. Crews then used three elevated master streams to knock the fire down before reentering the hotel to extinguish hot spots.
The fire heavily damaged the third floor and the attic, and water and smoke damaged the floors below. The exact cause of the fire is unknown.
Structural damage to the building, valued at $3 million, came to $2 million, while damage to its contents, valued at $1.5 million, was estimated at $1 million. There were no injuries.
Fire destroys multimillion-dollar home
FLORIDA - A fire that started in a vintage car in a garage attached to a single-family home quickly spread to the house, destroying the multimillion-dollar property.
The fire began when the owner of the 1937 Rolls Royce used a charger to jump start the car’s battery. When he started the car again, he saw a flash under the vehicle, which was soon engulfed in flames. The man ran to a neighbor’s house to get a fire extinguisher, but by the time he returned, the fire had spread out of control.
Firefighters en route to the 7:41 p.m. call reported a large, black column of smoke in the distance. When they arrived six minutes after the initial call, they found the Rolls and another car in the garage engulfed in fire, with flames rolling out the garage door. By the time they depolyed a hose, the fire was burning on the roof line.
After confirming that no one was inside the house, the incident commander switched the engine company’s initial offensive to a defensive attack due to the volume of fire and protected nearby exposures with deck guns and aerial appliances.
The cause of the fire is undetermined, but the house, valued at $3.5 million, and the two vehicles were completely destroyed.
Two die in fire caused by portable heater
NORTH CAROLINA - A 13-year-old girl and a 13-month-old baby died of smoke inhalation when a portable electric heater ignited nearby combustibles in a bedroom of their single-family home. The wood-frame house had no smoke alarms or sprinklers.
An occupant of the one-story home called the fire department to report the fire at 9:43 p.m. On arrival, firefighters found heavy smoke coming from the house and fire showing from a window on the left side of the dwelling towards the rear. When they were told that children were trapped inside, crews entered with hose lines to search for them.
They found the baby lying on the bed and the 13-year-old on the floor next to it. Neither had a pulse.
Investigators determined that radiant heat from the heater ignited clothing and other items on the cluttered bedroom’s floor. The fire spread to the furniture and rolled over the ceiling, igniting the entire room. The investigators also found that the natural gas meter had been shut off and locked.
The victims died of burns. Damage to the house, valued at $37,000, was estimated at $20,000. Damage to its contents, valued at $20,000, was estimated at $10,000.
Woman dies in fire caused by overheated extension cord
WEST VIRGINIA - A woman died of smoke inhalation in an early morning fire that started in the kitchen of her single-family home when an extension cord powering several kitchen appliances overheated and ignited nearby combustibles.
The unsprinklered, one-story, wood-frame house had a battery-operated smoke alarm in the hallway between the bedrooms, which alerted the woman’s husband. The warning allowed him to escape with his children to a neighbor’s house. However, he was unaware that his wife, who had gone out earlier with relatives, had returned home and fallen asleep in the living room.
Firefighters responding to a 4:37 a.m. call reporting the fire arrived 10 minutes later and brought the blaze under control in 23 minutes. They found the body of the woman in the living room.
The house, valued at $60,000, and its contents, valued at $20,000, were completely destroyed.
Smoking materials start dorm fire
CONNECTICUT - A cigarette butt dropped in a trash can started a fire in a university dorm that activated a sprinkler, which extinguished the blaze before firefighters arrived.
The six-story dormitory, which contained rooms and common areas, was of heavy timber construction with a wooden roof covered with slate. The smoke detection system and dry-pipe sprinkler system were both monitored by a central station company.
Investigators determined that the fire started in a second-floor common room when a student threw the remains of a cigarette into a trash can. The cigarette ignited the contents of the can, which burned until the sprinkler activated.
The building, valued at more than $50 million, sustained a structural loss of $10,000. Its contents, valued at $10 million, sustained $20,000 worth of damage. There were no injuries.
Residential sprinkler douses apartment fire
OKLAHOMA - By the time firefighters responded to a 911 call reporting a kitchen fire at a wood-frame apartment building, a residential fire sprinkler had extinguished the blaze.
The 24-unit, three-story apartment building, which measured 116 feet (35 meters) by 63 feet (19 meters), was covered with brick and wood siding. Its wooden roof was covered with asphalt shingles. The building was protected by monitored, hardwired, interconnected smoke alarms installed in the bedrooms and hallways and a wet-pipe sprinkler system designed in accordance with NFPA 13R, Installation of Sprinkler Systems in Residential Occupancies up to and Including Four Stories in Height.
Investigators determined that the fire began when oil left heating unattended in a pan on the stove in a third-floor apartment ignited. The smoke alarm alerted the apartment’s occupant, who tried to extinguish the flames with water. When this caused the fire to intensify, he called 911 at 7:18 p.m.
Estimates placed the damage to the building at $5,000, while damage to the apartment’s contents was estimated at $1,500. There were no injuries.
Medical oxygen intensifies fire started by smoking materials
GEORGIA - Firefighters arriving at a 40-unit board-and-care facility seven minutes after receiving a 3:51 a.m. water flow alarm found that a sprinkler had already extinguished the fire, which began when the woman living in the unit dropped a cigarette on her upholstered lift chair. They removed the woman, who had been unable to open her door, without incident.
The sprinkler was part of a monitored wet-pipe sprinkler system that protected the three-story, wood-frame facility. The building, which covered almost 30,000 square feet (2,700 square meters), was also equipped with a fire detection system.
Investigators, who found evidence of improperly discarded cigarettes throughout the apartment, believe that the chair in which the woman dropped the cigarette was saturated with the home oxygen she was using. She had left the operating nasal cannula over the chair’s arm when she got up to use the bathroom and returned to find the oxygen tubing and chair ablaze. She tried unsuccessfully to extinguish the flames with a pail of water before trying to leave the unit.
Damage was limited to the room of origin. The woman was not injured.
Malfunctioning microwave starts fire
CONNECTICUT - A single sprinkler extinguished a fire that began when a microwave oven malfunctioned and ignited crackers stored inside it and wooden cabinets above it.
The three-story, 54-unit, wood-frame apartment building, which was 255 feet (78 meters) long and 56 feet (17 meters) wide, had brick walls and a wooden roof covered with asphalt shingles. In addition to the wet-pipe sprinkler system, the building had a smoke and heat detection system.
A woman was using the stove in her first-floor unit when she smelled something burning. Unable to find the source of the smell in the kitchen, she went into the bedroom to see if anything was amiss. Seeing nothing out of the ordinary, she returned to the kitchen, where she saw smoke. At about the same time, the smoke detectors began to sound.
A floor monitor who came to investigate opened a window and told the woman and her husband, who had been watching television in the living room, to evacuate. The monitor also pulled the building’s manual fire alarm and asked a neighbor to call 911. When the couple left the apartment, they did not know where the smoke was coming from.
A fuse problem in the fire alarm control panel prevented the alarm from reaching the monitoring company, so the fire department only learned of the fire through the 911 call. Fortunately, one 155°F (68°C) sprinkler operated and extinguished the fire in the unit.
Investigators determined that the fire started in the internal control panel of the kitchen’s microwave, which was plugged in but not in use at the time of the fire.
The building, valued at $2.8 million, sustained $22,000 in damage. There were no injuries.
Two die, four injured in house fire
ILLINOIS - Two people died and four others, including two children, were injured in a fire that began in a mattress on the front porch of the single-family, wood-frame house they rented. The alarm was delayed as the occupants tried to extinguish the fire with bottled water before attempting unsuccessfully to remove the mattress from the porch. As the burning mattress was moved, it ignited other items.
A neighbor eventually noticed the blaze and called 911 at 1:45 p.m. The house was located on a long, private drive. No hydrants were in the area.
One of the victims, a 32-year-old man, died of smoke inhalation and the other, a 34-year-old woman, died as a result of injuries she suffered when she fell during the blaze. The four other occupants, ages 31, 24, 11, and 5, suffered from smoke inhalation, as did two police officers.
Structural damage to the two-story, 900-square-foot (84-square-meter) wood-frame house, which was valued at $200,000, was estimated at $160,000. Its contents, valued at $10,000, were destroyed.
Three die in early morning house fire
NORTH CAROLINA - A 32-year-old woman, a 63-year-old woman, and a 4-year-old boy died in an early morning fire in the kitchen of their single-family house.
The one-story, wood-frame house, which covered nearly 1,700 square feet (158 square meters), had a brick veneer and a wooden truss roof covered with asphalt shingles. There were no smoke alarms or sprinklers.
One of the home’s 10 occupants woke at approximately 5 a.m. to the odor of smoke. When he went to investigate, he saw flames in the kitchen. He started to wake the occupants as the house filled with smoke, but the smoke soon banked down and made breathing difficult. He and six others managed to escape and tried unsuccessfully to rescue the trapped occupants from outside.
Firefighters responding to a 5:02 a.m. call arrived to find heavy smoke inside the house and reports of trapped occupants. While crews advanced hose lines into the kitchen, additional firefighters searched for the trapped occupants. After finding the three victims in a bedroom, they took them outside and tried unsuccessfully to resuscitate them. All three died of smoke inhalation.
Damage to the home and its contents was estimated at $100,000.
Unattended cooking starts fatal fire
MICHIGAN - A 36-year-old man died when he was overcome by smoke in a fire that began when he left food cooking unattended on the stove in his single-family home.
Two families lived in the single-story, manufactured home, which was 58 feet (18 meters) long and 25 feet (8 meters) wide and had several additions. It had no sprinklers, and investigators could not determine whether smoke alarms were present.
A neighbor called 911 at 8:31 p.m. to report the fire, and the fire department arrived nine minutes later to find the home fully involved. Fire crews found the victim lying face down on the side of the house opposite the kitchen. A witness reported that the man had been very intoxicated before the fire started.
The fire destroyed the house, valued at $80,000, and its contents, which were valued at $45,000.
One dead in house fire caused by cigarette
MICHIGAN - A 48-year-old man with a history of heavy smoking and drinking died of smoke inhalation in a fire that started in a couch in his one-story, single-family home. He was intoxicated at the time of the fire.
A passerby who went to knock on the door after seeing smoke coming from the house found it hot to the touch and heard popping sounds coming from inside. He called 911 at 11:23 a.m., and arriving firefighters found the victim lying on the living room floor, overcome by smoke and carbon monoxide.
Investigators determined that the victim’s cigarette ignited the couch, starting a fire that spread into the wall voids. The wood-frame house had no smoke alarms or sprinklers.
Fire damage was limited to the living room, to structural areas above and below it, and to a bedroom adjacent to it. Smoke damage was evident throughout the house.
Space heater starts fatal house fire
NORTH CAROLINA - A fire started by a portable electric space heater that had been placed too close to a pile of clothes in a bedroom fatally injured a 22-year-old man when it spread from the clothes to a dresser, rolled over the ceiling, and vented through the window of his single-family home.
A smoke alarm had been installed on the living room wall of the one-story, wood-frame house, but investigators could not determine if it had operated. The house had no sprinklers.
Firefighters arrived on the scene shortly after 6 p.m. to find heavy smoke coming from the gable ends of the house and flames venting from the rear bedroom window. After advancing a hose line through the front door, they found the victim and took him outside to perform CPR. Shortly afterward, the interior of the house flashed over.
The structure, valued at $32,840, and its contents, valued at $3,000, were destroyed.
Unattended candle ignites contents of bedroom
TEXAS - A 4-year-old boy was fatally injured in a fire started by a candle left burning on a dresser in the master bedroom of his family’s apartment. The apartment building had no sprinklers, and investigators could find no smoke alarms in the apartment.
After the candle ignited the dresser, flames spread to a mattress, then to the entire contents of the room. The body of the little boy was found in an adjacent bedroom.
Neighbors called 911 at 9:12 a.m., and firefighters arrived to extinguish the blaze, which did $10,000 in damage to the building and $8,000 in damage to the apartment’s contents.
Smoking, home oxygen contribute to fatal fire
MINNESOTA - A 54-year-old man suffering from lung disease and paraplegia was fatally injured in a town-house fire started by his cigarette. The property had hardwired smoke alarms in the hallway and bedrooms, but there were no sprinklers.
The victim was smoking in a recliner in the living room of the wood-frame town house when the cigarette fell from his mouth and ignited a medical oxygen tube. When the burning tubing fell to the floor, the flames spread to throw rugs, the chair, and the victim.
The victim used his cell phone to call 911, but, due to his lung condition, he could not make the dispatcher understand his address. The smoke alarms operated, but they were not a factor in this fire, as the victim was aware of the blaze as soon as it started.
The town house, valued at $850,000, sustained less than $2,000 in damage. The victim died of burns.
One dead in flash fire at printing company
WISCONSIN - A 44-year-old printing company employee died when an explosion and flash fire damaged a section of the building in which he was working. The business was closed for the night, and the structure was occupied only by the plant’s maintenance personnel.
The one-story, steel-frame building, which was 79 feet (24 meters) long and 46 feet (14 meters) wide, had concrete block walls and a metal roof. It had a wet-pipe sprinkler system with a monitored water flow alarm.
The fire occurred in a room in which a solvent was used to wash ink off printing parts. Investigators determined that sparks from a nearby grinding operation ignited the solvent vapors, causing a flash fire. The explosion knocked an overhead sprinkler pipe off the ceiling, causing the water to flow.
Fire damage was limited to the area of origin. Structural losses were estimated at $166,000, while damage to the building’s contents was estimated at $488,000.
Sprinkler extinguishes fire in shopping mall
PENNSYLVANIA - Cardboard boxes pushed too close to lighting in a window display at a clothing store in a shopping mall ignited and burned until a single sprinkler operated and extinguished the flames.
The construction characteristics and size of the mall were not reported, but the store, which was 100 feet (30 meters) long and 60 feet (18 meters) wide, was constructed of wood framing with steel framing supporting the built-up, metal deck roof. The property was protected by a wet-pipe sprinkler system.
Investigators determined that the fire started when heat from ceiling-mounted track lighting ignited a number of decorated cardboard boxes that had been pushed up against them in the display window. The boxes should have been placed no closer to the sprinkler and the light than 18 inches (46 centimeters).
Damage to the store was estimated at $50,000, as was damage to the store’s contents. No one was injured.
Sprinklers control fire in furniture store
SOUTH CAROLINA - Three sprinklers controlled a fire in a furniture store’s second-floor electrical room until firefighters arrived and extinguished it.
The two-story, steel-frame building, which was 200 feet (61 meters) long and 200 feet (61 meters) wide, had concrete walls and a metal deck roof that was covered by a rubber membrane. The store was protected by a wet-pipe sprinkler system and a water flow alarm that was only designed to sound locally.
The fire started in the electrial room’s main distribution panel, damaging cable insulation and other items in the room. After burning for some time, the electrical wiring eventually short circuited and knocked out a power grid fuse.
The sprinklers held the fire in check until the fire department was notified several minutes later. Once firefighters extinguished the blaze, they shut the sprinklers and drained them to minimize water damage.
Damage to the building, valued at $4.5 million, and its contents, valued at $3.5 million, was not reported.
The fire department noted that fire damage was limited to the room of origin. However, smoke had spread throughout the second floor, and light smoke damaged the first floor. Water damage was confined to the area in and around the room of fire origin on both floors.
There were no injuries.