Homeless person starts million-dollar fire
WEST VIRGINIA — A mercantile building was destroyed by fire after a homeless person ignited a mattress under a metal staircase at the rear of the building. Although the mattress quickly burned out, the fire spread into the building through an opening in the stone foundation walls.
The building had brick exterior walls and a flat, wood-framed roof covered by a membrane. It had no automatic fire sprinklers or fire alarm system and was closed at the time of the fire.
A passerby saw smoke coming from the building and called 911 at 5:30 p.m. After firefighters extinguished the blaze, investigators determined the fire had burned for about two and a half hours before it was spotted, spreading from the basement to the rest of the building. Using video surveillance from a nearby federal building, they were able to determine the area of origin and the cause.
The building and its contents, each valued at $1 million, were destroyed. There were no injuries.
Fire engulfs office building
CALIFORNIA — Firefighters unable to control a fire in a large office building at a refinery during an interior fire attack were ordered from the building when the roof began to collapse. Eventually, the fire engulfed the building and destroyed it.
The two-story building, which measured 75 feet (23 meters) by 300 feet (91 meters), had masonry construction and a Spanish-style roof. The fire department did not report whether the building had a fire alarm or sprinkler system.
A passerby noticed the fire and called 911 at 4:22 a.m. By the time firefighters arrived, a large portion of the second floor was fully involved in flames. Roof companies tried to cut ventilation holes in the roof, but only minutes later, portions of the roof failed. Over the next four hours, more than 160 firefighters fought the fire defensively before extinguishing it.
The cause of the fire was not reported, but the building was considered a total loss. Property damage was estimated at $3 million.
Tanning bed fire destroys mall
WASHINGTON — A seven-unit strip mall was destroyed when a light bulb in a tanning bed exploded and started a fire that spread through ductwork into the wood-truss attic.
The one-story, wood-frame building, which covered an area of 8,900 square feet (830 square meters), had a monitored fire alarm system, but it was not sprinklered.
A customer was lying on the tanning bed when she heard a pop and saw flames above her head. She immediately dressed and notified a staff member, who called 911 at 2:15 p.m. before trying to extinguish the fire with a portable extinguisher. About three minutes later, the fire department received a call from the monitoring company reporting that the fire alarm had activated. A fan inside the tanning unit hastened the fire’s spread.
Responding firefighters could not contain the fire, and the entire building, valued at more than $1 million, was destroyed, as were its contents, valued at $300,000. The customer was not hurt, but a firefighter suffered a minor injury.
Woman dies in smoking fire
WASHINGTON — A 71-year-old woman died of burns suffered as a result of a fire that started while she was smoking in her motel room bed.
The four-story, wood-frame motel, which measured 8,258 square feet (767 square meters), had an NFPA 13 wet-pipe sprinkler system that was monitored for water flow.
The fire department received the alarm from the alarm monitoring company at 5 a.m. Although responding firefighters found that two sprinklers in the room had already extinguished the blaze and that the smoke alarm in the room was operating, the victim, who was later found to have been intoxicated, died of burns.
The building, valued at $3.3 million, and its contents, valued at $1.25 million, sustained $300,000 and $80,000 in damage, respectively.
Hoarding contributes to fire deaths
MARYLAND — A 63-year-old woman and her 40-year-old daughter died in their row house in a fire that started when items on the stove were left too close to an operating gas burner and ignited. The three-story house had no smoke alarms or sprinklers.
The fire was discovered by a pizza delivery person, who called 911 at 7:29 p.m. Firefighters arrived five minutes later, but their entry was hindered by large amounts of debris in the house.
Eventually, they found the older woman in the first-floor living room and her daughter in a second-floor bathroom, and transported them both to the hospital, where they were pronounced dead.
Investigators examining the scene found the stove covered with canned goods, a pizza box, and pans. Noting that a burner knob was in the “on” position, they determined that heat from the burner ignited the cardboard box and other combustibles and that the fire spread up the wall behind the stove. Fire damage in the kitchen was heavy, as was smoke damage in the living room.
The house, which was valued at $122,000, sustained $25,000 in damage. Its contents, the value of which was not reported, sustained an estimated loss of $4,000.
Elderly woman dies in fire in cluttered house
TEXAS — A 71-year-old woman died in her single-family home when an electrical cord with a homemade junction box overheated, starting a fire that spread through the house, consuming hoarded combustibles.
The one-story, wood-frame rental house sat on a pier foundation and had a composition asphalt-shingled roof. It had no smoke alarms or sprinklers.
Firefighters arriving at the scene four minutes after the 11:15 a.m. alarm were met by the woman’s 50-year-old son, who told them that his mother was still inside the burning building. After crews knocked down the heavy fire coming from the front door, they entered the home to search for the woman but were unable to get past the living room due to the large amount of hoarded items blocking their way.
Another crew that entered from the rear found her and removed her from a back room through a window. She was taken by ambulance to the hospital, where she died of smoke inhalation.
Under the debris in the living room, investigators found two electrical extension cords, one of which had a homemade junction box at one end. The burn pattern pointed to an electrical malfunction.
The house and its contents, which were valued at $25,000, were destroyed. The woman’s son suffered burns and smoke-related injuries.
Sprinkler prevents fire from spreading up trash chute
PENNSYLVANIA — A single sprinkler prevented a fire from spreading from a dumpster at the bottom of a trash chute into a seven-story apartment building, although smoke filled the building’s top three floors.
The 114-unit, steel-frame apartment building, which was 169 feet (51 meters) long and 119 feet (36 meters) wide, was of masonry construction and had a metal roof with a built-up roof surface. The property was protected by a wet-pipe sprinkler system and a fire detection system, which alerted the occupants.
An occupant called 911 at 6:10 p.m. to report the fire, and firefighters arrived four minutes later to find water coming from a lower-level trash room. They found that the sprinkler had confined the fire to a dumpster, which they removed from the building to complete extinguishment. They then repositioned it under the trash chute.
Investigators were unable to determine the exact ignition source.
No damage was done to the building, which was valued at $2.1 million, or its contents, valued at just over $1 million. There were
Fire kills man with disability
TEXAS — A 58-year-old man with a disability died of burns and smoke inhalation injuries when a fire in the bathroom of his apartment spread to his clothing.
The fire occurred in a two-story, wood-frame apartment building with a brick veneer and a flat roof covered by tar and gravel. A battery-operated smoke alarm was located outside the bedroom, but it had no battery. The building was unsprinklered.
The fire was reported by another building occupant at 4 p.m. After responding firefighters extinguished it, investigators determined that a cotton towel hanging over an operating electric heater ignited while the victim was in the bathroom, setting his clothes on fire. They noted that it was a very small fire and estimated that a half hour passed between ignition and the discovery of the fire.
The building, valued at $96,000, and its contents, valued at $15,000, sustained an estimated loss of $250.
House fire kills elderly woman
OHIO — A 94-year-old woman, who used a walker, died of burns and smoke inhalation as a result of a fire that started in her living room.
The single-family, split-level, wood-frame house, which was 60 feet (18 meters) long and 36 feet (11 meters) wide, sat on a concrete slab and had a The flash fire, which spread to an interior door and the adjacent wall, created enough heat to activate the sprinkler and sound an external water flow alarm, allowing the family to evacuate safely.
Water did $500 in structural damage to the house, which was valued at $82,000. Its contents, valued at $10,000, sustained an estimated loss of $1,000.
New system detects electrical fire that began in sub-floor
HAWAII — A newly installed automatic fire alarm system in an office building operated in response to smoke in an HVAC duct, even though the system had just been installed and had not yet undergone acceptance testing. The fire department was notified at 10:30 a.m.
The single-story, wood-frame building, which was 150 feet (46 meters) long and 75 feet (23 meters) wide, had no sprinklers. It was built on a post and pier foundation with electrical wiring running underneath. The building was closed for the weekend at the time of the fire.
Investigators found evidence that electrical wires in the sub-floor had arced repeatedly for at least four days before starting the fire, which burned through the floor. They also noted that a severed wire showed signs of shorting. Over several days before the fire, the building’s occupants had intermittently smelled smoke, but they were unable to pinpoint the cause.
The fire spread through the structure’s wood walls into an office above and into the attic. Firefighters used an interior attack, but they had trouble extinguishing the fire in the roof due to multiple layers of roofing material.
A fire wall stopped fire spread, limiting damage to the building, which was valued at $2 million, to an estimated $1.25 million. Its contents, valued at $750,000, sustained a $250,000 loss. One firefighter suffered a strain during fire suppression operations.
Explosion in silo blamed on combustible dust
ARKANSAS — Wood flour being transferred from a storage silo to a manufacturing building ignited, causing an explosion that blew off the silo’s metal roof and catwalk. The combustible wood flour, used to create composite wood plastic products, was stored in the silo after being processed from oak raw material.
The steel-frame silo was 25 feet (7 meters) in diameter and sat on a concrete pad. At the time of the explosion, the silo held 10,000 pounds (4,500 kilograms) of wood flour.
A passerby saw the explosion and called the fire department at 3:53 a.m. On arrival, firefighters saw smoke coming from the top of the silo and flames coming from the observation ports at its base. Using hose lines, they sprayed water into the ports from a distance, knocking down the flames.
Investigators determined that mechanical equipment using bearings malfunctioned during the transfer process, causing a spark that ignited the wood flour. The fire smoldered until it reached air, then began burning freely. According to the fire marshal, this was the third explosion at the facility, and it called into question the maintenance program and design.
The silo, valued at $100,000, sustained damage estimated at $50,000. Its contents, valued at $10,000, were destroyed. There were no injuries.
Rags soaked in oil-based stain start fire
MONTANA — A sprinkler extinguished a fire in a multitenant commercial building that started when rags used to apply an oil-based stain were put in a plastic trash barrel, where they spontaneously ignited.
The fire occurred in a portion of the building that housed a door manufacturer’s retail show room, staining room, and wood shop. The fire department reported neither the construction of the building nor its size. A wet-pipe sprinkler system provided partial coverage, but the local water flow alarm was not monitored by a fire alarm system.
At 9:23 p.m., an employee returned to the building to apply another coat of stain to a door and noticed water coming from the shop’s side entrance. After opening the door, she found the interior filled with smoke and called the fire department. Firefighters, who arrived four minutes after receiving the alarm, found the remains of the fire in the staining room.
Investigators determined that the oily rags had ignited spontaneously and that the resulting fire melted the plastic barrel into which they had been placed. When the fire spread to an adjacent table, the heat activated a single sprinkler, which extinguished the blaze.
Investigators also found that the water motor gong outside the building was not operational.
The building and its contents, which were valued at $1.5 million, sustained damage estimated at $500. There were no injuries.
Sprinklers douse oily rag fire in clothing manufacturing plant
ALABAMA — An automatic fire sprinkler system extinguished a fire in a clothing manufacturing and processing plant that started when a cart full of rags and towels that had been soaked in oil spontaneously ignited.
The two-story, steel-frame building, which was 100 feet (30 meters) long and 54 feet (16 meters) wide, had metal walls and a metal roof. The property, which was protected by a monitored wet-pipe sprinkler system and smoke detectors, was closed for the weekend when the fire occurred.
The water flow alarm activated, notifying the fire department at 11:49 a.m. By the time firefighters responded, however, the fire in the center of the first floor had already been extinguished. Investigators determined that after the fire began to burn freely, it spread to apparel and clothes that were hanging from the second-floor. The resulting heat activated three to four sprinklers.
The building, which was valued at $8.9 million, and its contents, valued at $2 million, sustained damage estimated at $100,000 and $8,000, respectively. There were no injuries.
Sprinkler extinguishes fire in sauna
VIRGINIA — A fire in the walls of a sauna in a recreational facility smoldered for about 30 minutes before it breached the wall and activated a single sprinkler, which extinguished the blaze before firefighters arrived at the scene.
The facility was located in a two-story, steel-frame building that had concrete block walls and a flat roof covered by a rubber membrane. The 84,000-square-foot (7,800-square-meter) center was protected by a wet-pipe sprinkler system and a fire alarm system, both of which were connected to an off-site alarm monitoring company.
The water flow alarm triggered the building’s fire alarm system, alerting the fire department at 1:26 p.m. When they arrived, firefighters found the sprinkler operating in the sauna, which was located on the first floor. All they had to do was overhaul the area and ventilate the building.
Investigators determined that an electrical timer/thermostat control module in the sauna failed, igniting the sauna’s wooden structural members. The fire burned through the concealed spaces of the wooden walls until it created enough built-up heat to activate the sprinkler system and trigger the fire alarm system.
The building, which was valued at more than $8 million, and its contents, which were valued at $567,000, sustained an estimated $25,000 in combined damage. The fire department reported no injuries.