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

A massive fire roars through a mostly residential neighborhood in San Bruno, California, the result of a pipeline explosion. (Photograph: AP/Wide World)

2010 Multiple-Death Fires by Type

NFPA Journal®, September/October 2011

By Stephen G. Badger

 Read the Catastrophic Multiple-Death Fires Incidents in 2010 report summary
 Get NFPA's 2010 Multiple Fire Death report

HOME STRUCTURES

ILLINOIS
Date, Time of Alarm, Number of Deaths
February, 6:30 a.m., 7 (2 under age 6)

 

RELATED INFORMATION
 Catastrophic Multiple-Death Fires in 2010 report summary
 2010 Multiple-Death Fire Incidents
 Download the full report (PDF, 62KB)



RELATED NFPA JOURNAL FEATURES
 Catastrophic Multiple-death fires 2009 (Sep/Oct 2010)

 Catastrophic Multiple-death fires 2008 (Sep/Oct 2009)
 Catastrophic Multiple-death fires 2007 (Sep/Oct  2008)

Number of Stories, Occupancy Type, Construction Type
This was an occupied two-story, four-unit apartment building that covered 2,250 square feet (210 square meters) and was of unprotected wood-frame construction.

Smoke Alarm and Other Protection Devices
Smoke alarms were present and alerted the occupants. The fire department reported the occupants were unable to escape because exits were blocked by smoke and flames. There was no automatic suppression equipment.

Fire Origin and Path
This fire was set on the first story using available combustibles. No additional information was reported.

Contributing Factors and Victim Locations
Three firefighters were also injured. No information was reported on the victim’s locations. An arrest has been made in this case.

MINNESOTA
Date, Time of Alarm, Number of Deaths
April, 5:59 a.m., 6 (3 under age 6)

Number of Stories, Occupancy Type, Construction Type
The two-story, six-unit apartment building with a pub on the first floor covered 7,200 square feet (670 square meters). It was of unprotected, ordinary construction. The second-story apartments were occupied, and the pub was closed.

Smoke Alarm and Other Protection Devices
Smoke alarms, though present, did not operate for unreported reasons, and some had been removed. There was no automatic suppression equipment.

Fire Origin and Path
The only information reported was that the fire began on the second story.

Contributing Factors and Victim Locations
The victims were all located on the second story. An additional five people, as well as four firefighters, were injured.

NEW YORK
Date, Time of Alarm, Number of Deaths
June, 6:51 a.m., 6 (2 under age 6)

Number of Stories, Occupancy Type, Construction Type
This was a two-story, single-family home of unprotected wood-frame construction. The ground floor area was not reported.

Smoke Alarm and Other Protection Devices
No information was reported on smoke alarms. There was no automatic suppression equipment.

Fire Origin and Path
The only information reported was that the fire started on the first floor.

Contributing Factors and Victim Locations
Five of the victims were located on the second story, and one child was in a bedroom on the first story. In addition, three other people were injured.

OKLAHOMA
Date, Time of Alarm, Number of Deaths
August, 5:13 a.m., 6 (2 under age 6)

Number of Stories, Occupancy Type, Construction Type
This was a one-story, single-family home of unprotected ordinary construction.

Smoke Alarm and Other Protection Devices
No information was reported.

Fire Origin and Path
No information was reported.

Contributing Factors and Victim Locations
No information was reported.

MARYLAND
Date, Time of Alarm, Number of Deaths
December, 4:35 a.m., 6 (2 under age 6)

Number of Stories, Occupancy Type, Construction Type
This was a two-story, single-family row house of unprotected wood-frame construction that covered approximately 1,000 square feet (93 square meters).

Smoke Alarm and Other Protection Devices
No information was reported on smoke detection equipment. There was no
automatic suppression equipment.

Fire Origin and Path
This fire broke out in a first-story living room and was electrical in nature. No additional details were reported.

Contributing Factors and Victim Locations
No information was reported.

MISSOURI
Date, Time of Alarm, Number of Deaths
January, 4:59 a.m., 5 (1 under age 6)

Number of Stories, Occupancy Type, Construction Type
This was a one-story, single-family home of unprotected wood-frame construction. The ground floor area was not reported. There were seven occupants in the home at the time.

Smoke Alarm and Other Protection Devices
There were no smoke alarms or suppression equipment present.

Fire Origin and Path
The fire broke out in the finished basement near a couch. The cause was undetermined.

Contributing Factors and Victim Locations
The five victims were found in a bathroom in the basement. Two other people were injured but escaped from the first floor. Firefighters responding to the scene were slowed due to icy roads and snow drifts.

CALIFORNIA
Date, Time of Alarm, Number of Deaths
January, 5:15 a.m., 5

Number of Stories, Occupancy Type, Construction Type
This single-family, single-wide manufactured home of unprotected wood-frame construction covered 648 square feet (60 square meters) and had an addition that contained a bedroom.

Smoke Alarm and Other Protection Devices
Neither smoke alarms nor suppression equipment were present.

Fire Origin and Path
The fire started in the bedroom in home’s addition. The cause was undetermined.

Contributing Factors and Victim Locations
These were not reported.

TENNESSEE
Date, Time of Alarm, Number of Deaths
January, 6:46 a.m., 5 (1 under age 6)

Number of Stories, Occupancy Type, Construction Type
This two-story duplex of unprotected wood-frame construction covered 1,690 square feet (157 square meters). The unit of origin was occupied by seven people at the time of hte fire.

Smoke Alarm and Other Protection Devices
Neither smoke alarms nor suppression equipment were present.

Fire Origin and Path
The fire broke out in a first-floor bedroom, but the cause was undetermined.

Contributing Factors and Victim Locations
No information was reported on victim location or fire spread. An eight-year-old who escaped on her own was taken to a hospital, as was another child who was in critical condition.

NEW YORK
Date, Time of Alarm, Number of Deaths
January, 2:31 a.m., 5

Number of Stories, Occupancy Type, Construction Type
This three-story apartment building of unprotected ordinary construction had businesses on the ground level and covered 4,000 square feet (372 square meters). The number of apartments in the building was not reported.

Smoke Alarm and Other Protection Devices
There were no smoke alarms or suppression equipment.

Fire Origin and Path
The fire broke in a second-story apartment. No additional information was reported.

Contributing Factors and Victim Locations
Three additional people and 14 firefighters were injured.

ARKANSAS
Date, Time of Alarm, Number of Deaths
February, 3:57 a.m., 5 (1 under age 6)

Number of Stories, Occupancy Type, Construction Type
This was a one-story, single-family home of unprotected wood-frame construction that covered 1,200 square feet (111.5 square meters)

Smoke Alarm and Other Protection Devices
Neither detection nor automatic suppression equipment were present.

Fire Origin and Path
The fire was caused by a short circuit in a lamp’s electrical cord, which had been damaged by a sofa resting on it. The short circuit ignited the sofa, and the fire spread throughout the house.

Contributing Factors and Victim Locations
A man and a four-year-old girl were found in a bedroom. A woman was found in a bathroom off a bedroom. Two more children were found in a hallway at the entrance to a bathroom.

RHODE ISLAND
Date, Time of Alarm, Number of Deaths
February, 12:10 pm, 5 (1 under age 6)

Number of Stories, Occupancy Type, Construction Type
This two-story, single-family home of unprotected wood-frame construction covered 1,224 square feet (114 square meters).

Smoke Alarm and Other Protection Devices
There were smoke alarms, but it is not known if they operated. There was no automatic suppression equipment.

Fire Origin and Path
Defective wiring in a first-story ceiling ignited wooden structure supports. Fire damage was confined to the ceiling/floor assembly and a second-floor bedroom.

Contributing Factors and Victim Locations
Two victims were found in each of two bedrooms on the second floor. The fifth victim was also found on the second floor, but the location was not reported. All four adults had drugs in their systems.

ALABAMA
Date, Time of Alarm, Number of Deaths
March, 12:15 a.m., 5 (1 under age 6)

Number of Stories, Occupancy Type, Construction Type
The ground floor area of the single-family manufactured home of unprotected wood-frame construction was not reported.

Smoke Alarm and Other Protection Devices
No information was reported.

Fire Origin and Path
No information was reported.

Contributing Factors and Victim Locations
No information was reported.

KENTUCKY
Date, Time of Alarm, Number of Deaths
April, 2 a.m., 5 (3 under age 6)

Number of Stories, Occupancy Type, Construction Type
The ground-floor area of the single-family manufactured home of unprotected wood-frame construction was not reported.

Smoke Alarm and Other Protection Devices
No information was reported.

Fire Origin and Path
No information was reported.

Contributing Factors and Victim Locations
Seven people were also injured.

IDAHO
Date, Time of Alarm, Number of Deaths
June, 4:02 a.m., 5 (1 under age 6)

Number of Stories, Occupancy Type, Construction Type
This single-family manufactured home of unprotected wood-frame construction covered 600 square feet (55.7 square meters). It was occupied by a family of two adults and three children.

Smoke Alarm and Other Protection Devices
Neither smoke alarms nor automatic suppression equipment were present.

Fire Origin and Path
The fire began on the porch when a can of discarded cigarette butts ignited the wooden decking. The fire spread into the house and to two vehicles parked outside.

Contributing Factors and Victim Locations
All five victims were found in a rear bedroom.

WASHINGTON
Date, Time of Alarm, Number of Deaths
June, 10:04 a.m., 5 (1 under age 6)

Number of Stories, Occupancy Type, Construction Type
This two-story townhouse of unprotected wood-frame construction covered 476 square feet (44 square meters). It was one unit of a three-unit building that covered 1,800 square feet (167 square meters).

Smoke Alarm and Other Protection Devices
Two smoke alarms were present. An alarm on the second floor activated. There was no suppression equipment.

Fire Origin and Path
The fire broke out in a first-floor living room closet when the closet’s hot light bulb ignited one end of a foam rubber mattress that had been pushed inside. Residents pulled the mattress from the closet and left it in the living room as they opened doors and windows to help silence the alarm, but the cross ventilation caused the smoldering mattress to flare up and ignite nearby furniture. The fire then spread up the stairwell to the second story.

Contributing Factors and Victim Locations
The fire blocked the victims’ means of egress. All five were found in a second-floor bathroom; three were in the bathtub. Another person was injured.

TENNESSEE
Date, Time of Alarm, Number of Deaths
September, 2:38 a.m., 5 (2 under age 6)

Number of Stories, Occupancy Type, Construction Type
This single-family, double-wide manufactured home covered 1,404 square feet (130 square meters).

Smoke Alarm and Other Protection Devices
Neither smoke alarms nor automatic suppression equipment were present.

Fire Origin and Path
The cause and origin of this fire is undetermined.

Contributing Factors and Victim Locations
When the fire department arrived, the house was 50 percent involved in fire. Firefighters made three attempts to rescue the trapped occupants, but they were forced into a defensive attack as conditions worsened. One other person was injured.

OHIO
Date, Time of Alarm, Number of Deaths
October, 2:12 a.m., 5 (1 under age 6)

Number of Stories, Occupancy Type, Construction Type
This two-story, eight-bedroom, single-family home of unprotected wood-frame construction covered 5,720 square feet (531 square meters).

Smoke Alarm and Other Protection Devices
Information on detection equipment was undetermined due to the destruction of the house. Investigators found no automatic suppression equipment.

Fire Origin and Path
The fire began in the living room when an electric space heater ignited an unknown wooden item. How the item was ignited was not reported. The fire spread throughout the first story and up the stairway to the second floor, destroying the home.

Contributing Factors and Victim Locations
All the victims were located in four of the bedrooms on the second story, but they were found on the first floor after the house burned to the ground. A second-story balcony had no ladder or stairs allowing for egress, and the fire blocked the main means of egress. Seven civilians and a firefighter were injured.

PENNSYLVANIA
Date, Time of Alarm, Number of Deaths
October, 7:30 p.m., 5 (4 under age 6)

Number of Stories, Occupancy Type, Construction Type
This was a three-story, single-family row house of unprotected wood-frame construction. The ground floor area was not reported.

Smoke Alarm and Other Protection Devices
No information was reported.

Fire Origin and Path
No information was reported.

Contributing Factors and Victim Locations
No information was reported.

FLORIDA
Date, Time of Alarm, Number of Deaths
November, 10:35 p.m., 5

Number of Stories, Occupancy Type, Construction Type
This one-story, single-family home covered 1,434 square feet (133 square meters) and was of unprotected wood-frame construction.

Smoke Alarm and Other Protection Devices
Neither smoke alarms nor suppression equipment were present.

Fire Origin and Path
No information was reported on the cause and origin of the fire.

Contributing Factors and Victim Locations
Two of the victims were found in bedrooms. No information was reported as to the locations of the other three. An additional person received life-threatening smoke inhalation and burn injuries.

NON-HOME STRUCTURES

WEST VIRGINIA
Date, Time of Alarm, Number of Deaths
April, 3 p.m., 29
 

Number of Stories, Occupancy Type, Construction Type, Operating Status
This explosion and fire occurred in a coal mine consisting of approximately 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) of tunnels approximately 1,000 feet (395 meters) under the surface. It was at full operation at the time.

Detection Systems and Suppression Systems
No information reported.

Fire Origin and Path
A low volume of methane and/or methane from natural gas was the fuel for the initial ignition of the explosion. Friction or sparks from a worn bit on a mining machine contributed to the ignition. This explosion initiated a secondary coal dust explosion.

Contributing Factors and Victim Locations
Water sprayers that cooled the wall and the mining machine as it sheared away coal were missing, allowing a spark or heat from friction to ignite the gasses present. The mine’s ventilation and air moving systems were not working correctly, so methane gas and coal dust accumulated over the weekend. More information can be found at the Mine Safety and Health Administration website at msha.gov. The report from the Governor’s Independent Investigation Panel is available at nttc.edu/ubb/. Investigations are ongoing.

LOUISIANA
Date, Time of Alarm, Number of Deaths
December, 1:30 a.m., 8

Number of Stories, Occupancy Type, Construction Type, Operating Status
This one-and-a-half-story vacant warehouse of unprotected noncombustible construction was being used by homeless men and women for shelter. The floor area was not reported.

Detection Systems and Suppression Systems
No information was reported.

Fire Origin and Path
No information was reported.

Contributing Factors and Victim Locations
No information was reported.

WASHINGTON
Date, Time of Alarm, Number of Deaths
April, 12:40 a.m., 7

Number of Stories, Occupancy Type, Construction Type, Operating Status
This hydrocarbon refinery was of unprotected noncombustible construction. The height and floor area were not reported. It was operating at the time of the fire.

Detection Systems and Suppression Systems
No information was reported.

Fire Origin and Path
A heat exchanger ruptured, releasing hydrocarbon and naphtha vapors that were almost immediately ignited. The heat exchanger, which was almost 40 years old, was being brought back in service after being down for maintenance and cleaning. The leak or leaks were found in cracks in welds. During operations, heat exchangers go through many changes in temperature and pressure, causing such cracks. For further information on the investigations, visit the Washington Department of Labor and Industry at
lni.wa.gov/ and the Chemical Safety Board at csb.gov/.

Contributing Factors and Victim Locations
No information was reported.

CONNECTICUT
Date, Time of Alarm, Number of Deaths
February, 11:15 a.m., 6

Number of Stories, Occupancy Type, Construction Type, Operating Status
This was an explosion at a power generating plant construction site. No information on the construction, ground floor area, or height of the plant was reported.

Detection Systems and Suppression Systems
No information was reported.

Fire Origin and Path
The explosion occurred when a large quantity of natural gas was being used in a blowout conducted to clean out pipes. It is not known what the ignition point was.

Contributing Factors and Victim Locations
Fifteen natural gas blows were completed within four hours of the explosion from an open-ended 20-foot (6-meter) pipe located between two large structures known as heat recovery steam generators. It is probable that the proximity of the buildings and the location of the vent pipe affected the dispersion of the natural gas. Up to 50 other workers were injured. Additional information can be found at the Chemical Safety Board at csb.gov/. At least five of the fatalities were located in the power generation building and were involved in the gas blow. The location of the other victim was not reported.

ALABAMA
Date, Time of Alarm, Number of Deaths
January, 8 p.m., 4

Number of Stories, Occupancy Type, Construction Type, Operating Status
This was a two-story motel of unprotected wood-frame construction. No further information was reported.

Detection Systems and Suppression Systems
No information was released due to ongoing civil suits.

Fire Origin and Path
No information was released due to ongoing civil suits.

Contributing Factors and Victim Locations
No information was released due to ongoing civil suits.

CALIFORNIA
Date, Time of Alarm, Number of Deaths
September, 12:51 p.m., 3

Number of Stories, Occupancy Type, Construction Type, Operating Status
This was a one-story, 144-square-foot (13-square-meter) tool shed of unprotected wood-frame construction.

Detection Systems and Suppression Systems
No information was reported.

Fire Origin and Path
No information was reported.

Contributing Factors and Victim Locations
No information was reported on the victims’ locations or what they were doing at the time. One firefighter was injured during the fire.

MICHIGAN
Date, Time of Alarm, Number of Deaths
October, 1:57 a.m., 3

Number of Stories, Occupancy Type, Construction Type, Operating Status
This one-story adult care home covered 2,100 square feet (195 square meters) and was of unprotected wood-frame construction. The facility was occupied at the time of the fire.

Detection Systems and Suppression Systems
There were smoke alarms in each room. The system operated and alerted the occupants. There was no automatic suppression equipment.

Fire Origin and Path
The cause of the fire, which broke out in the first-story living room, is undetermined and still under investigation.

Contributing Factors and Victim Locations
The age of the victims was reported as a factor in preventing their escape. An additional four people were injured.

WEST VIRGINIA
Date, Time of Alarm, Number of Deaths
December, 1:23 p.m., 3

Number of Stories, Occupancy Type, Construction Type, Operating Status
This was a one-story chemical manufacturing plant of unprotected noncombustible construction.

Detection Systems and Suppression Systems
No information was reported.

Fire Origin and Path
No information was reported.

Contributing Factors and Victim Locations
No information was reported.

NON-STRUCTURAL

CALIFORNIA
Date, Time of Alarm, Number of Deaths
September, 6:12 p.m., 8

Setting
This was a 30-inch (76-centimeter) natural gas transmission pipeline that ran under the roadway in a residential neighborhood.

Climate
Winds were at 20 miles (32 kilometers) per hour, the temperature was 65° F (18°C), and humidity was at 58 percent.

Fire Origin and Path
A rupture of the gas transmission pipeline released over 47 million cubic feet (1,330,892 cubic meters) of natural gas. The release was ignited by an undetermined source and created a crater approximately 76 feet (23 meters) by 26 feet (8 meters), with a fireball reported to be 200 feet (61 meters) high.

Factors Hindering Occupant Escape
The explosion and ensuing fire destroyed 38 homes and damaged 63 others. It also damaged or destroyed 74 vehicles. Fifty people were injured. An investigation is ongoing by the National Transportation Safety Board (ntsb.gov/).

CALIFORNIA
Date, Time of Alarm, Number of Deaths
February, 12:35 p.m., 3 deaths (2 under age 6)

Setting
This crash, which occurred on an interstate highway, involved a passenger car that was struck from behind and  became partially wedged under another tractor trailer.

Climate
It was not reported.

Fire Origin and Path
The fire broke out when fuel spilled from a breach in the car’s fuel system and fuel from a damaged saddle tank on the truck that struck the car was ignited by the truck’s engine.

Factors Hindering Occupant Escape
A passenger vehicle with four occupants became wedged under a tractor trailer truck after it was struck from behind by another tractor trailer truck. The four occupants were trapped in the car when it caught fire. One of the four died of blunt force trauma injuries, and the other three died of burns or smoke inhalation. Passersby tried to rescue the victims, but they were driven back by the heat and flames.

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