. Author(s): Stephen Badger. Published on November 1, 2011.

 A massive fire roars through a mostly residential neighborhood in San Bruno, California, on September 9, 2010, the result of a ruptured gas line. (Photo: AP/Wide World)

2010 Large-Loss Fire Incidents

NFPA Journal®, November/December 2011

By Stephen G. Badger

 Download the full "2010 Large Loss Fire" report (PDF, 156 KB)
 Read the Large-Loss Fires in the United States in 2010 feature

PUBLIC ASSEMBLY 

TEXAS
Date, Time of Alarm, Dollar Loss
January, 5:23 a.m., $15 million
Property Characteristics and Operating Status
This three-story church of unprotected wood-frame construction covered 15,000 square feet (1,394 square meters) and contained offices and classrooms. It was unoccupied at the time of the fire.
Fire Protection Systems
No detection system was present. There was a wet-pipe sprinkler system that was not in the area of ignition, but it activated and helped contain the fire.
Fire Development
This incendiary fire was set in a second-story hallway and stairwell area using ordinary combustible materials found in the hallway. The fire then spread to and through the common attic.
Contributing Factors and Other Details
Fire walls and fire doors activated and helped reduce the spread of the fire. One firefighter was injured. 

UTAH
Date, Time of Alarm, Dollar Loss
December, 2:34 a.m., $15 million
Property Characteristics and Operating Status
This large church, which was equal in height to four stories, was of heavy-timber construction with masonry walls. It covered 8,064 square feet (749 square meters). The church was closed at the time of the fire.
Fire Protection Systems
The alarm system of unreported type and coverage activated. There was no automatic suppression equipment.
Fire Development
A 300-watt light bulb in the attic 44 feet (13 meters) above the floor ignited a wooden enclosure of an audio speaker. The fire spread throughout the plywood ceiling and up a stairway to the truss roof.
Contributing Factors and Other Details
When the alarms activated, a security guard reset the alarm and left the building. Sometime later, another guard nearby noticed smoke rising from the top of the building. He notified a third guard, who entered the church and discovered a fire on a stage and flames coming through a hole in the ceiling. He left the building and notified the fire department. Factors contributing to fire spread and fire loss were listed as an inadequate detection and notification system (this was not explained in the report), lack of automatic sprinklers, an additional fuel load (a set had been added for a play), and human error. The loss to the structure was estimated at $10 million and to its contents at $5 million.

LOUISIANA
Date, Time of Alarm, Dollar Loss
January, 11:00 a.m., $10 million
Property Characteristics and Operating Status
This two-story restaurant of protected noncombustible construction covered 300,000 square feet (27,871 square meters) and was one of several businesses in a plaza. It was closed at the time of the fire.
Fire Protection Systems
No information was reported on detection system. There was no automatic suppression equipment.
Fire Development
The cause and origin is listed as undetermined.
Contributing Factors and Other Details
No information was reported.

SOUTH CAROLINA
Date, Time of Alarm, Dollar Loss
March, 5 a.m., $10 million
Property Characteristics and Operating Status
This two-story golf course country club of unprotected wood-frame construction covered 36,720 square feet (3,411 square meters). It was closed at the time of the fire.
Fire Protection Systems
There was a complete-coverage smoke detector system, but it was not reported if it operated. A wet-pipe sprinkler system had been shut down several hours earlier when another fire caused a pipe in the system to burst.
Fire Development
This was a rekindle of a previous fire.
Contributing Factors and Other Details
No information was reported.

STORAGE

TEXAS
Date, Time of Alarm, Dollar Loss 
August, 4:14 a.m., $40 million
Property Characteristics and Operating Status
This one-story warehouse stored electronic voting machines and related equipment. It was of unprotected noncombustible construction and covered 20,000 square feet (1,858 square meters). It was not reported whether anyone was in the building at the time of the fire.
Fire Protection Systems
No information was reported.
Fire Development
The cause and origin of the fire is undetermined and under investigation.
Contributing Factors and Other Details
No information was reported.

CALIFORNIA
Date, Time of Alarm, Dollar Loss 
January, 2:18 p.m., $20 million
Property Characteristics and Operating Status
This was a raisin storage facility. No additional information was reported.
Fire Protection Systems
No information was reported.
Fire Development
The cause of the fire was listed as spontaneous heating of agricultural products.
Contributing Factors and Other Details
Damage to the structure and its contents was listed at $10 million each.

NEW MEXICO
Date, Time of Alarm, Dollar Loss
June, 7:47 p.m., $10 million
Property Characteristics and Operating Status
This 30-foot (9-meter) tall paper record storage warehouse of unprotected ordinary construction was divided into five different storage facilities. The ground floor area was not reported. Nor was it reported that anyone was in the building at the time of the fire.
Fire Protection Systems
No information was reported on detection or suppression equipment.
Fire Development
The cause and origin of the fire was listed as a malfunctioning air conditioning unit on the roof.
Contributing Factors and Other Details
Strong winds hampered firefighters’ efforts.

EDUCATIONAL PROPERTIES 

MISSOURI
Date, Time of Alarm, Dollar Loss 
April, 11:33 p.m., $28.5 million
Property Characteristics and Operating Status
This two-story middle school of protected noncombustible construction was unoccupied at the time. The ground floor area was not reported.
Fire Protection Systems
No information was reported on detection or suppression equipment.
Fire Development
This incendiary fire was set in a first-floor office. No additional information was reported.
Contributing Factors and Other Details
The loss to the structure totalled $24.9 million; damage to its contents totalled $3.5 million. An arrest was made in relation to this fire.

CALIFORNIA
Date, Time of Alarm, Dollar Loss 
July, 4:17 a.m., $10 million
Property Characteristics and Operating Status
This was an elementary school. No additional information can be released due to an ongoing criminal investigation.
Fire Protection Systems
This was an incendiary fire. No additional information can be released due to an ongoing criminal investigation.
Fire Development
No information can be released due to an ongoing criminal investigation.
Contributing Factors and Other Details
No information can be released due to an ongoing criminal investigation. 

MANUFACTURING 

TEXAS
Date, Time of Alarm, Dollar Loss  
February, 8:06 p.m., $15 million
Property Characteristics and Operating Status
This was a one-story, 80,000-square-foot (7,432 square meters) sawmill. No additional information was reported.
Fire Protection Systems
No information was reported.
Fire Development
No information was reported.
Contributing Factors and Other Details
No information was reported. 

TENNESSEE
Date, Time of Alarm, Dollar Loss  
September, 1:31 p.m., $12.3 million
Property Characteristics and Operating Status
This one-story aluminum manufacturing plant of unprotected noncombustible construction had a ground floor area of 30,000 square feet (2,787 square meters). The plant was in operation at the time of the fire.
Fire Protection Systems
Smoke alarms were present and operated, alerting the workers, but the coverage was not reported. A wet-pipe sprinkler system was also present. It operated and was effective, but the coverage was not reported.
Fire Development
The fire broke out when hot materials ignited flammable liquids and spread to the roof. The reason for, and location of, ignition was not reported.
Contributing Factors and Other Details
No information was reported. 

WILDFIRE 

COLORADO
Date, Time of Alarm, Dollar Loss 
September, 10 a.m., $217 million
Property Characteristics and Operating Status
This was a wildland-urban interface fire.
Fire Development
A fire set in a fire pit several days earlier was thought to have been extinguished, but winds caused embers to reignite and blew them into nearby grass and woods.
Contributing Factors and Other Details
This fire destroyed 172 structures, of which 166 were homes. It damaged another 26 homes and burned more than 6,179 acres (2,501 hectares). There were seven firefighter injuries.

STORES AND OFFICES 

CALIFORNIA
Date, Time of Alarm, Dollar Loss
October, 10:22 a.m., $110 million
Property Characteristics and Operating Status
This two-story mall of protected noncombustible construction covered 1.4 million square feet (130,064 square meters) and was open at the time of the fire.
Fire Protection Systems
Smoke alarms were present and operated, alerting the occupants. A wet-pipe sprinkler system with coverage under the ceiling of the entire mall activated properly. During the fire, a mall employee shut down the system for 71 minutes; the reason for this was not reported. When it was turned back on, more than 200 sprinkler heads activated. Fire doors, a water curtain, and fire walls reportedly were effective in stopping the fire from spreading into the stores.
Fire Development
This incendiary fire was started in the stockroom of a store on the second level when someone soaked toilet paper rolls in flammable liquids and ignited them with an open flame. The fire spread to the attic through a space where a ceiling tile had been removed. While the sprinkler system was off, the fire spread to the sales floor and adjoining stores.
Contributing Factors and Other Details
It was reported that three primary factors contributed to this loss: there were no sprinklers above the ceiling, the sprinkler system was shut down for 71 minutes, and the fire burned for nearly four hours, during which time suppression efforts were begun but were curtailed because police had received a report that someone had placed a bomb in the building before setting the fire. The perpetrator was arrested and convicted.

OUTSIDE OF STRUCTURE WITH LOSS 

CALIFORNIA
Date, Time of Alarm, Dollar Loss
September, 6:12 p.m., $65 million
Property Characteristics and Operating Status
This was a 30-inch (76-centimeter) natural gas transmission pipeline under a residential neighborhood.
Climate
Winds were blowing at 20 miles (32 kilometers) per hour, the temperature was 65°F (18°C), and humidity was 58 percent.
Fire Development
A rupture in this gas transmission pipeline released more than 47 million cubic feet (1.3 million cubic meters) of natural gas that was ignited by an undetermined source, creating a fireball reported to be 200 feet (61 meters) high. It left a crater approximately 76 feet (23 meters) long by 26 feet (8 meters) wide.
Contributing Factors and Other Details
Eight people died and 52 were injured in this explosion and fire, which also destroyed 38 homes and 52 vehicles. Another 63 homes and 22 vehicles were damaged, and 10 acres (4 hectares) of open space and city infrastructure were burned. At least 2,000 people were evacuated from 600 additional structures. Firefighters had water supply problems because the explosion damaged the water mains, so helicopters were used to drop water from the air. Of the 52 people injured, 10 suffered serious burns. Two of the injured were firefighters. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is conducting an investigation.

BASIC INDUSTRY, UTILITY, AND DEFENSE PROPERTIES 

ILLINOIS
Date, Time of Alarm, Dollar Loss
December, 9 a.m., $52 million
Property Characteristics and Operating Status
This two-story, 3,750-square-foot (348-square-meter) wastewater treatment plant of protected noncombustible construction was operating at the time of the fire.
Fire Protection Systems
The plant had neither detection nor automatic suppression equipment.
Fire Development
Venting piping in the basement had been disconnected while a maintenance procedure was being performed on a methane burner. Workers provided mechanical ventilation and left the room to allow it to vent. The ignition source is unknown.
Contributing Factors and Other Details
Loss to the structure was estimated at $42 million. Damage to its content was estimated at $10 million. 

SPECIAL PROPERTIES 

NEW YORK
Date, Time of Alarm, Dollar Loss
December, 9 p.m., $12 million
Property Characteristics and Operating Status
This five-story building was under renovation. No additional information was reported.
Fire Protection Systems
No information was reported.
Fire Development
No information was reported.
Contributing Factors and Other Details
No information was reported. 

RESIDENTIAL 

HAWAII
Date, Time of Alarm, Dollar Loss
March, 5:42 p.m., $10 million
Property Characteristics and Operating Status
This two-story, single-family home of unprotected wood-frame and some heavy timber construction covered 20,000 square feet (1,858 square meters). It was unoccupied at the time.
Fire Protection Systems
Complete coverage smoke detection equipment was present, but it’s unknown if the system activated. There was no suppression equipment.
Fire Development
The fire’s cause and origin are listed as undetermined.
Contributing Factors and Other Details
No information was reported.