Author(s): Ken Tremblay Published on January 1, 2012


A woman and two young children were rescued from this residential fire in North Carolina, but later died of their injuries. (Photo: Photo by The Fayetteville Observer)

NFPA Journal®, January/February 2012

RESIDENTIAL

Woman, two children die in home fire
NORTH CAROLINA — A 40-year-old woman and two young boys, ages three and one, were rescued from their burning single-family home by firefighters, but later died as a result of their injuries.

 

FROM THE ARCHIVES

November - December 2011
Fire spreads from balcony into concealed spaces

September - October 2011
Kitchen fire damages restaurant 

July - August 2011
Gas explosion kills two

May - June 2011
Torch starts roof fire at lumber and hardware store

March - April 2011
 Oil-fired boiler causes fatal fire

January - February 2011
Leaking natural gas ignites

The one-story, wood-frame home, which was 41 feet (12 meters) long and 43 feet (13 meters) wide, had no fire detection or suppression equipment.

Firefighters responded to a 911 call from a passerby at 4:17 p.m. When they arrived six minutes later, they found the house involved in fire and were told that people were still inside. Crews advanced two 134-inch hose lines into the house and began search and rescue operations.

They found the woman in the kitchen beside the stove and took her outside, where they began CPR. Firefighters then found the three-year-old in the bathroom, wedged between the sink and the tub, and took him outside for treatment. Finally, they found the one-year-old victim in his crib.

Investigators determined that the fire started on an upholstered cushion on a couch in the living room and spread from there. However, they were not able to determine the exact ignition scenario.

Flame damage was limited to the room of origin, while heavy smoke and heat damage was seen throughout the house. Less damage was found in the children’s bedrooms because the doors had been closed.

The woman and the three-year-old boy died of smoke inhalation and burns. The one-year-old boy succumbed to smoke inhalation. No damage estimates were reported.

Smoke kills two women with functional needs
OHIO — A 77-year-old woman and her 58-year-old daughter, each of whom had limited mobility and health issues, died of smoke inhalation when they were unable to escape from a fire in their single-family home.

The one-story, wood-frame house, which was 48 feet (15 meters) long and 34 feet (10 meters) wide, had an asphalt roof. Hardwired smoke detectors with battery backup were located in and outside the bedrooms, but only one was functioning before the fire. There were no sprinklers.

Neighbors reported smelling something burning around 8 or 8:30 p.m. the evening of the fire, a few hours after the younger woman’s daughter left for the evening. However, they could not locate the source and did not call the fire department.

When the daughter returned home around 4 a.m., she found the garage and the home’s interior filled with smoke. She entered the house and tried unsuccessfully to wake up her mother and grandmother before going outside to call 911.

Firefighters arrived to find the interior filled with heavy soot from a smoldering fire. They also found the bodies of the victims in their bedrooms.

Investigators determined that the fire started when one of the women unintentionally dropped lit smoking material on the floor near oxygen tubing. The plastic tubing ignited and acted as a fuse over which the fire, fed by the oxygen, traveled through the house to an oxygen concentrator in the kitchen. There, the concentrator and a motorized wheel chair became involved in flames.

Heat from the fire also caused a water heater pipe nearby to fail, and water from the broken pipe acted as a sprinkler, knocking down most of the fire. However, the fire continued to smolder, producing the smoke and gases that filled the house.

The house, valued at $97,600, sustained damage estimated at $10,000, and its contents, valued at $15,000, were ruined.

Man fatally injured using gasoline in fireplace 
KANSAS — A 31-year-old man died of burns three weeks after he became involved in flames while pouring gasoline to restart a fire in the fireplace in the basement of his one-story, single-family house.

An ember ignited gasoline vapors, and the fire quickly flashed back to the victim, who dropped the gas can, spilling more fuel and igniting his clothes. He was able to escape from the house, get the children out, and call 911.

The house, which was valued at $135,000, sustained $60,000 in structural damage. The home’s contents, which were valued at $15,000, were completely destroyed.

Sprinklers limit damage from garage fire
ILLINOIS — In an effort to locate the source of a burning odor, an occupant of a townhouse in a four-unit building opened the door to his garage, where he was met by heavy black smoke from a fire that began when fireplace ashes left in the garage ignited. 

The two-story, wood-frame house had wooden roof trusses and an asphalt shingle roof. The unit, like the others in the building, had a garage at grade level and living space above. The living areas of the home were protected by wet-pipe sprinklers and smoke alarms, but the garage was not.

As soon they discovered the fire, the occupants called 911 and left the house at 3:35 p.m. Firefighters arrived to find the garage and the two vehicles in it well involved in flames. The garage door was collapsing, and flames coming out of the garage were spreading along the exterior wall into the eaves of the second floor and roof.

As the cars’ tires exploded, the firefighters advanced hose streams into the garage and extinguished the fire. Fortunately, fire sprinklers located next to the garage service door and in a bedroom above it operated, limiting fire spread into the home. The service door remained intact, though it was heavily damaged. Smoke alarms in the home operated only after the fire was discovered, as little smoke entered the living area.

Investigators determined that the occupants had used their fireplace the day before the fire and put the ashes into a plastic bag, which they put on the garage floor. The smoldering ashes eventually melted the bag, and the fire ignited nearby combustibles. The garage was not equipped with heat detectors or sprinklers.

The building, valued at $900,000, sustained $150,000 in structural damage. Its contents, including the vehicles, sustained damages estimated at $115,000. There were no injuries.

One dead in fire started by space heater
OKLAHOMA — An 80-year-old man died in his single-family home in a fire that started when a portable space heater ignited nearby curtains. The victim was using the space heater to keep warm during very cold weather.

The wood-frame house, which was 50 feet (15 meters) long and 30 feet (9 meters) wide, had a wooden roof covered with asphalt shingles. There was no fire detection or automatic suppression equipment.

A passerby noticed the fire and called 911 at 3:40 a.m.

Investigators determined that the space heater ignited the bedroom curtains and noted that the victim may have been visually impaired, which could have contributed to his death.

Estimates of damage to the house and its contents were not reported.

FYI  Heating equipment is the second leading cause of home fires and home fire deaths. 

For more information on home heating fires and how to prevent them, please visit nfpa.org/heating.

Unattended cooking starts fatal fire
ALABAMA — A 25-year-old man and a 17-year-old woman died in a fire that started when one of them fell asleep, leaving food cooking on the stove. The fire also injured a 15-year old boy.

The one-story, single-family manufactured home, which was 32 feet (10 meters) long and 14 feet (4 meters) wide, had a metal roof and metal exterior walls. Investigators found no evidence of smoke alarms, and there were no sprinklers.

 When the occupant fell asleep, grease in a pan on the electric stove overheated and started a fire that spread throughout the dwelling. It burned undetected for an unknown period until a neighbor called 911 at 12:30 a.m.

The man and woman died of exposure to smoke and products of combustion. The boy was burned and suffered from smoke inhalation.
 The structure, valued at $10,000, and its contents, valued at $5,000, were destroyed. 
 
Woman dies when clothing catches fire
MASSACHUSETTS — A 74-year-old woman died of burns when her clothing caught fire while she was cooking.

The single-family, wood-frame house had brick veneer walls and an asphalt roof. Battery-operated smoke alarms were located in the hallways and outside the bedrooms, but there were no sprinklers.

After her clothing caught fire, the victim ran from the house, where someone driving by saw her and, with the help of another passerby, tried to extinguish the flames. One of them dropped a cell phone while trying to call 911 at 5:13 p.m., and dispatchers, who only heard some sort of disturbance in the background, sent a still alarm response to the scene.

By the time the fire department arrived, the fire had spread from the kitchen out the front door. A police officer had already rescued a second occupant, who was physically disabled, from the house.

Investigators determined that the woman was cooking when the range ignited her clothing. As she fled from the house, other combustibles in the kitchen ignited and started to burn.

The police officer who rescued the occupant suffered from smoke inhalation, and the two passersby had burns to their hands. The house, valued at $250,000, sustained damage estimated at $150,000. Its contents, valued at $75,000, were destroyed.

Lantern starts fire in home without electricity
TENNESSEE — A 57-year-old man who was occupying a purportedly vacant house without electricity died of burns and smoke inhalation when flammable vapors from a faulty kerosene lantern he was using for illumination ignited. The single-family, wood-frame house had no smoke alarms or sprinklers.

The fire department received a call at 4:37 a.m. reporting that something was burning in the area, and responding firefighters discovered the house on fire.

After crews extinguished the blaze, investigators combed throught the wreckage and found the lantern in a bedroom on the main floor, along with clothing, canned goods, and a mattress. They determined that the cap for the fuel compartment of the lantern was missing, allowing the flammable vapors to escape. They also noted that the victim was intoxicated at the time of the fire.

The house, which was valued at $12,700, was destroyed. There were no contents of any value.

RESIDENTIAL BOARD AND CARE

Sprinklers stop fire in residential board and care facility
ARIZONA — A caregiver and all the occupants of a residential board and care facility escaped injury when two sprinklers extinguished a fire that began when the staffer left a pan of grease heating unattended on the stove.

The single-story, wood-frame facility occuppied a converted single-family home. It had a wet-pipe sprinkler system, installed in accordance with NFPA13R, that provided coverage in all living areas and was monitored by a central station alarm company. Smoke alarms were present in the great room and resident sleeping rooms, but they did not operate because they were not near the kitchen.

The facility housed nine people who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. At the time of the fire, they were being cared for by a single staff member, who put the pan on the electric stove and went to watch television. The heat from the stove ignited the grease, and flames spread to the cabinets and walls before the sprinklers in the kitchen extinguished the fire.

The fire department received a water flow alarm at 2:45 a.m. and responded to find that the sprinklers had already extinguished the fire. Firefighters tried to control the flow of water from the two operating sprinklers, but they were concealed so that the traditional method of placing a wooden block in the sprinkler to limit flow was not possible. The water department was contacted and turned off the water so firefighters could plug the sprinklers.

The caregiver admitted that he had started heating some grease and then gone to another room to watch television. During the interview, investigators thought he appeared to be impaired by alcohol, which may have contributed to the start of the fire. They referred the matter to law enforcement for further evaluation.

None of the residents was injured. One was picked up by family, and the other eight were transferred to similar facilities under the same ownership.

The home, valued at $250,000, and its contents, valued at $175,000, sustained a combined loss of $30,000.

NURSING HOME

Cigarette starts fire in nursing home
ILLINOIS — A sprinkler controlled a fire in a bedroom of a nursing home that investigators believe started when the occupant dropped a cigarette on the bedding. The occupant admitted to smoking only in the designated smoking area, but investigators believe the evidence suggests otherwise.

The 75-room, 142-bed nursing home was one story high and covered an area of approximately 31,390 square feet (2,916 square meters). It was constructed of wood framing with wooden walls covered in a brick veneer and a wood truss roof covered with asphalt shingles. It was equipped with a wet- and dry-pipe sprinkler system and a fire detection system, both monitored by a municipal wireless system.

Firefighters received the call at 5:30 p.m. and arrived two minutes later to find smoke in one wing. The incident commander upgraded the response, bringing in additional resources. When firefighters entered the building, they found that the sprinkler had activated after a maintenance person used a portable fire extinguisher on the flames in the room.

Investigators determined that the fire started when a discarded cigarette ignited bedding, a plastic mattress pad, and the mattress. The room’s occupant was in the smoking lounge at the time the fire started.
 
The facility, which was valued at $2 million, sustained $10,000 in damage and its contents, which were valued at $750,000, sustained damage estimated at $5,000. One woman suffered from smoke inhalation.

MANUFACTURING

Dust collector fire injures three
SOUTH CAROLINA — Three men, ages 57, 42, and 60, were burned when combustible metal dust in a manufacturing plant ignited and started a fire that spread from a machine to a dust collection system.

The two-story, steel-frame building, which was 120 feet (37 meters) long and 80 feet (24 meters) wide, had metal walls and a metal roof covered with tar and gravel. A wet-pipe sprinkler system protected the non-manufacturing and storage areas, while an argon system protected a process machine. The argon system provided an alarm, but it did not cover the dust collection system in which the fire occurred. The plant was also equipped with several Class D dry powder portable and wheeled fire extinguishers for employees’ use.
 
A worker discovered the fire at a machine’s base and activated the argon system protecting the equipment. Someone else noticed that the dust collector was also on fire. An employee called the fire department at 7:35 a.m. to report the blaze and told the dispatcher that several people had been injured.

Firefighters called for additional resources while they were en route to the scene and arrived seven minutes after the 911 call to find smoke and flames coming from the dust collector that was mounted on the outside wall of the facility. 

The employees, who had all evacuated, directed EMS to the three who were burned. As the injured were transported to an area hospital, the incident commander ordered additional Class D dry powder fire extinguishers from another fire department, as well as a load of sand and salt from the Department of Transportation in case it was needed.

Crews were split into interior and exterior locations to determine the extent of fire spread. The interior crew noted heavy smoke coming from the ductwork and removed access panels on the dust collector, which was also producing heavy smoke. They used the dry powder fire extinguishers in the area to extinguish the blaze. Exterior crews used two Class D extinguishers and 5 gallons (19 liters) of Class D powder to extinguish the fire in the dust collector.

Power to the dust collection system was shut down, and interior machinery and the dust collection system were isolated by lock-out and tag-out procedures so firefighters could perform salvage, decontamination, and rehabilitation operations.

The building was valued at $1.25 million, but the amount of damage to it or to its contents was not reported.

Fire in plastic processing plant controlled by sprinkler
MINNESOTA — A single sprinkler extinguished a fire in a plastic extruding machine at a manufacturing plant before the fire department responded to the 12:55 alarm.

The single-story commercial building, which measured 300 feet (91 meters) by 300 feet (91 meters, had concrete walls and a metal deck roof.

The property was protected by a monitored wet-pipe sprinkler system and smoke detectors.

Employees saw smoke and discovered that a machine that heated and extruded plastic beads was on fire. Fortunately, a single sprinkler over the machine fused and extinguished the blaze. When one of the workers noticed plastic dripping from the machine vents, he sprayed an extinguisher into them. A second extinguisher was also used.

The machine, located on the main floor in the processing area, had overheated in the past but never to that extent, according to employees.

Fire damage was limited to the machine itself. Loss estimates were not reported, and there were no injuries.

Fire at vacant manufacturing plant blamed on arson
WISCONSIN — Firefighters responding to a 911 call reporting a fire at a vacant manufacturing plant discovered that the building contained a number of empty plastic gasoline jugs, pointing to a possible arson fire.

The two-story building, which covered an area of 2,500 square feet (232 square meters), was constructed in the 1970s as a vinyl window manufacturer, with concrete block walls, lightweight steel parallel cord trusses, and wooden roof additions. Wooden mezzanines had been built inside under the 20-foot (6-meter) ceiling.

The plant originally had a wet-pipe sprinkler system, but it had been converted to a dry-pipe system supported by a portable air compressor due to lack of power and heat. A fire detection system using smoke and heat detectors had also been installed, but it, too, had been deactivated due to lack of power. The building had a history of utility shut-offs due to nonpayment.

Although the plant was not occupied at the time of the fire, homeless people often used it for shelter.

A passerby called 911 at 6:18 p.m. to report smoke coming from the building. When firefighters arrived, they found a column of black smoke coming from the center of the structure. Walking around the plant, the operations officer discovered a burning rag near a service door that had been propped open and smoke about 3 feet (0.9 meters) off the floor. He also saw a gasoline can about 12 feet (4 meters) inside the building.

Because of the strong probability of arson, the large amount of smoke and heat, concerns about structural integrity or booby traps, and the threat to firefighter safety, defensive tactics were recommended, as were evidence preservation efforts. Companies were ordered to support the sprinkler system using the fire department connection, as engine and ladder companies began to advance hose lines.

When support of the sprinkler system had little effect on the fire, firefighters found that the outside screw and yoke valve was shut. When the valve was opened, at least 20 sprinklers operated.

Once the fire was brought under control, firefighters found 16 fuel containers and multiple points of origin. Investigators later found more points of fire origin, as well as the remains of bedding, furniture, and other evidence of vagrants.

The value of the building and its contents was not reported.

STORAGE

One killed when welder ignites flammable vapors
INDIANA — One person was killed and two others were injured when a welder working on a steel storage tank in a single-story storage and maintenance facility inadvertantly ignited flammable vapors in the tank, causing an explosion.

The incident occurred near the entrance of the building, which had concrete walls and a wooden roof covered with asphalt shingles. The facility was not equipped with a suppression or detection system.

A 911 call at 11:25 p.m. reported the explosion, and arriving firefighters found three people injured, one critically. Investigators determined that the steel tank had last contained gasoline, and the residual vapors were ignited by the torch.

The dead man, whose age was not reported, died of injuries related to the explosion. The other two victims suffered smoke inhalation injuries.

The value of the building and estimates of the damage were not reported.

MERCANTILE

Sprinkler controls incendiary fire in department store
CALIFORNIA — A single dry-pipe sprinkler operated and controlled a fire at a large department store, limiting damage to the building, which was occupied by shoppers at the time.

The single-story department store covered an area of approximately 10,000 square feet (929 square meters). It was equipped with a monitored fire detection and suppression system.

The alarm company reported a water flow alarm to the fire department at 4:36 a.m. When firefighters arrived four minutes later, they found smoke coming from the store’s garden center.

Fire crews forced open a door in the chain link fence along the perimeter and advanced a hose line into the area, where they encountered cold smoke and a single operating sprinkler. They quickly extinguished the blaze, which had burned shelving racks containing flowerpots and packaged potting soil, and activated the in-store ventilation system to clear the area of smoke.

Investigators later determined that the fire was incendiary.

The loss was estimated at $1,000.

EDUCATIONAL

Sprinkler extinguishes incendiary fire at school
NEW JERSEY — A sprinkler controlled a fire that was intentionally set in a second-floor boy’s bathroom at a high school, limiting damage to the room.

The roof and floor of the two-story, steel-frame school were constructed of open web steel bar joists. The metal deck roof had a rolled rubber and asphalt surface. A fire detection system provided full coverage, and a wet-pipe sprinkler system protected the science wing, which was where the fire started.

Firefighters received the alarm at 2:30 p.m. and found that a sprinkler had already extinguished the blaze. The building’s fire walls and doors and the fire-rated ceiling prevented the fire from spreading.

Investigators determined that an unknown student used either a match or a lighter to set fire to a plastic toilet paper holder and that the resulting fire spread along the bathroom wall to the ceiling. There was a delay in extinguishment because the sprinkler nearest the fire had been installed with its shipping cap still in place. However, a second sprinkler near the door to the corridor activated and extinguished the blaze.

The school, which was valued at $10 million dollars, sustained $50,000 in damage. Its contents, valued at $5 million, sustained a loss of $25,000. There were no injuries.

FYI  While most schools do not have automatic sprinklers, this fire scenario is fairly common. Half of all reported fires in pre-school through grade 12 were intentionally set. The lavatory was the leading area of origin in fires in these schools. For more information about school fires, go to www.nfpa.org/schoolfires.

Sprinkler extinguishes university building fire
OHIO — A fire of undetermined origin that started in a cardboard box filled with glass tubes at a university laboratory was extinguished by the building’s suppression system, limiting damage to $5,000.

The three-story laboratory had stone walls and a flat metal roof with a built-up roof surface. It was equipped with a combination smoke and heat detection system connected to a monitored fire alarm panel and a wet-pipe sprinkler system with a monitored water flow.

The fire department received the alarm at 12:12 a.m., and firefighters arrived 10 minutes later to find that a sprinkler had already extinguished the blaze in the third-floor room. The cause of the fire was investigated, but it could not be determined.

No one was injured.

ASSEMBLY

Oily rags ignite in restaurant trash can
IOWA — Firefighters responding to an automatic alarm found that a fire burning in a trash can at a restaurant had already been extinguished by a single sprinkler.

The restaurant occuppied the first floor of the four-story building, which had 24 apartments on the three floors above it. A lower level contained a parking garage. Automatic fire detection and suppression systems had been installed throughout the building and were monitored by a central station alarm company.

The fire department received the alarm at 9:14 a.m., and firefighters arriving less than three minutes later saw no smoke or flames coming from the building. However, they noticed water coming from the parking garage ceiling and entered the rear storage area of a restaurant, where they found the sprinkler had already put the fire out.

Investigators determined that the oily rags that filled the trash can had spontaneously ignited, burning freely until the overhead sprinkler fused.

The structure, valued at $750,000, sustained $5,000 in damage.

NFPA (National Fire Protection Association)
1 Batterymarch Park, Quincy, MA 02169-7471 USA
Telephone: +1 617 770-3000 Fax: +1 617 770-0700