Author(s): Ken Tremblay. Published on July 1, 2014.


Woman dies in electrical fire
IOWA—A 42-year-old woman died of smoke inhalation in her single-family home when she became trapped in her living room by an electrical fire.

The two-story, wood-frame home, which was 48 feet (15 meters) long and 38 feet (12 meters) wide, had balloon frame construction with several wall voids leading from the basement to the top floor. The house had no smoke alarms or sprinklers.

The fire department received a 911 call at 3:49 a.m., and firefighters responded within three minutes to find the house involved in flames. Crews used several hose lines to knock down the fire, but they were unable to rescue the trapped woman, whose body was eventually located in the living room.

The victim’s mother told investigators that she had been wakened by her daughter shouting that she smelled smoke. The mother got out of bed and saw her daughter standing in the living room but did not see any smoke. Just as the victim asked whether she should call 911, however, the room erupted in flames, trapping her. The mother managed to escape unharmed.

Investigators found several portable electric space heaters in the house, which only had a 60-amp service. The overloaded electrical circuits apparently ignited the house’s wooden structural framing and burned in the voids for quite an extended period before breaching the interior walls and spreading into the house.

The fire destroyed the home and its contents, together valued at $85,000.

Flash fire injures two
MARYLAND—Two occupants of a third-floor condominium suffered burns to their faces and hands when a portable butane-fired burner they were using to cook on top of a dining room table ignited in a flash fire. Fortunately, a sprinkler activated and controlled the fire until the fire department arrived.

The condominium, which was part of a four-story, multi-unit building, covered approximately 1,800 square feet (167 square meters). Monitored, hardwired smoke detectors had been installed in each unit, as had a wet-pipe sprinkler system.

Firefighters received the automatic alarm at 7:51 p.m. and were met on arrival by the two burn victims, who were standing outside the building. They told the fire crews that the fire “was not active” but that they needed emergency medical care. When the fire crews entered the building, they found the other occupants, who had evacuated upon hearing the fire alarms, gathering on the first floor. Entering the unit of origin, they found that the sprinkler had already extinguished the blaze.

Investigators determined that a butane leak or a failure of the stove led to the release of gas, which ignited in a flash fire. The occupants told them that the stove had been in use for 20 minutes when the flame went out. About 20 minutes after one of them restarted the stove, the fire occurred.

Damage was estimated at $3,000.

Fatal fire traps two girls in bedroom
LOUISIANA—Two young girls, ages three years and 16 months, died of smoke inhalation in a fire that they started in a bedroom of their single-family home while playing with a toaster oven.

The one-story, wood-framed dwelling, which was 50 feet (15 meters) long and 24 feet (7 meters) wide, had exterior wood siding and an asphalt-shingled roof. There were no smoke alarms or sprinklers.

The girls were playing in a bedroom with the door closed when one of them placed a notebook and eyeglass case in a toaster oven that was used for heating and turned it on. The contents ignited, and the fire spread quickly to two mattresses, jackets, and wooden wall paneling. Because flames blocked the bedroom door, the girls were unable to escape.

There was a delay of approximately 10 minutes before another occupant of the home discovered the fire and went to a neighbor’s house to call 911 at 1 p.m.

The fire destroyed the house, which was valued at $30,000, and its contents, valued at $15,000.

Woman dies in smoking-related fire
TENNESSEE—A 54-year-old woman died of smoke inhalation in a fire that began when she dropped an ashtray containing a burning cigarette on the seat cushion of an upholstered chair and the chair ignited.

The multi-unit, wood-frame apartment building in which she lived had exterior block walls and a wooden roof covered by asphalt shingles. The victim’s apartment had a local, battery-operated smoke alarm in the bedroom, but there was no battery in the alarm. The apartment was not equipped with sprinklers.

The fire department received a 911 call from an adjacent unit reporting the fire at 2:09 a.m. Investigators determined that after the victim dropped the ashtray on the cushion, she took the cushion into the kitchen and doused it in the sink. Thinking she had extinguished the fire, she then went to bed. Unfortunately, the chair itself was still smoldering and went to a free burning state.

Structural damage to the building, which was valued at $200,000, was estimated at $20,000. The apartment’s contents, which were valued at $5,000, were destroyed.

Smoking materials start fatal fire
SOUTH CAROLINA—A 62-year-old woman died of smoke inhalation injuries in a fire that was caused by smoking materials.

The woman’s one-story, wood-frame, single-family house covered approximately 1,100 square feet (102 square meters). It had no sprinklers. After the fire, investigators found a battery-operated smoke alarm lying on a table in the hallway, but it did not contain a battery.

A passerby, who noticed fire in a front bedroom of the house, called 911 at 7:15 a.m. When firefighters arrived, they found flames venting from the structure and entered the house through the front door. After they knocked down the fire in the front bedroom, they removed the victim to a waiting ambulance crew, who took her to the hospital, where she was pronounced dead.

Investigators found evidence of smoking materials throughout the house and noted heavy fire damage to a front-facing bedroom, where a mattress had ignited. As the fire intensified, it spread into an adjacent bathroom and the rear bedroom in which the victim was found. The investigation concluded that the fire was started by smoking materials.

Structural damage to the house was estimated at $50,000, while damage to its contents was estimated at $10,000.

Unattended cooking ignites fire in dorm room
MASSACHUSETTS—A sprinkler controlled a fire in a college dormitory that started when a pan of oil was left heating on an electric stove, limiting damage to the room of origin.

The fire occurred on the third floor of a five-story college dorm. The building was protected by a fire alarm system with smoke alarms and a monitored wet-pipe sprinkler system.

The fire department received the alarm at 2:35 p.m., and firefighters, who arrived two minutes later, found that the sprinkler had already brought the blaze under control. The dorm’s occupants, alerted by the fire alarm system, had evacuated the building.

The fire caused an estimated $12,000 in damage to the building and its contents. There were no injuries.

Kerosene heater starts fatal fire
OHIO—A 28-year-old man died of burns and smoke inhalation when he was overcome by a fire that began when a kerosene heater ignited gasoline fumes in a closed garage.

The one-story, wood-frame garage, which was 25 feet (8 meters) long and 20 feet (6 meters) wide, had no smoke alarms or sprinklers.

The victim and a friend had driven a pick-up truck into the garage, closed the doors, and begun to repair a fuel leak when a heat from a kerosene heater ignited gasoline and the vapors from the leaking fuel line. His 32-year-old friend also suffered smoke inhalation and burns, but survived.

The fire, which started at 5:40 p.m., destroyed the garage, valued at $20,375, and its contents, valued at $20,000.

Contents of fireplace ignite deadly blaze
NEW JERSEY—A 51-year-old woman and a 12-year-old boy died of smoke inhalation and another person was injured when the contents of a fireplace rolled out into the kitchen and started a fire that spread throughout their single-family house.

The two-story, heavy timber house, which was 50 feet (15 meters) long and 24 feet (7 meters) wide, had walls of concrete and stone, a slate roof, and a large fireplace in the kitchen that provided the heat for the entire home. There were no smoke alarms or sprinklers.

The occupants of the home had loaded the fireplace with wood for the evening and gone upstairs to bed when the contents spilled out onto the kitchen floor, igniting nearby combustibles. The occupants discovered the fire and called 911 at 9:45 p.m., before trying to escape. One occupant climbed out a second-floor window and survived the fire.

Investigators determined that registers installed in the ceiling and floor to allow heat to move throughout the house contributed to fire spread.

The building, valued at $200,000, sustained damage estimated at $100,000. The fire destroyed its contents, which were valued at $10,000. One firefighter suffered smoke inhalation injuries during extinguishment.

Sprinklers control fire in hotel room
NEW JERSEY—Two sprinklers controlled a fire in an occupied hotel room that started when an electrical short in the cord of the wall-mounted heating and air conditioning unit ignited nearby combustibles.

The 134-unit, extended-stay hotel had concrete block walls with wood-truss floors and a steel-truss roof covered with wooden decking and asphalt shingles. The wet-pipe sprinkler system, which was connected to a fire alarm system that included smoke detectors, was monitored by a central station alarm company.

When the fire alarm system activated, the hotel staff notified the fire department, which also received a call from the alarm company at 6:16 a.m. Firefighters arrived about five minutes later and were told that the fire was on the second floor. Advancing two hose lines to the floor of origin, they forced their way into the room, where they found that the sprinklers had already brought the fire under control. They also found that the woman who occupied the room had managed to evacuate, uninjured, with her dog.

Investigators determined that the power cord of the room’s wall-mounted heating and air conditioning unit shorted and overheated and then ignited curtains and a nearby chair and blanket. As the fire spread, it created enough heat to activate the sprinklers and enough smoke to activate the smoke detectors.

THe amount of property damage from the fire was not reported, but all the hotel’s occupants evacuated without injury.

Laptop ignites bedding in dorm room
MASSACHUSETTS—A laptop computer that had been plugged into a wall outlet and left on a bed in an unoccupied college dorm room ignited the bedding, starting a fire that spread until a sprinkler activated and brought the blaze under control.

The seven-story, steel-frame college dormitory had concrete floors and walls and covered approximately 20,000 square feet (186 square meters) per floor. An NFPA 13 wet-pipe sprinkler system had been installed throughout the building, and there were smoke detectors in each room. The sprinkler system’s water flow alarm and the detectors were connected to a monitored fire alarm system.

The fire department received the alarm at 12:44 p.m., and firefighters who arrived three minutes later were told by campus police that there was smoke on the sixth floor. Firefighters took the stairs to the fire floor and connected the hose line to the standpipe system. They advanced down the smoky hallway to the room of origin and opened the door with a passkey. Once inside, they found that a sprinkler was keeping the fire, which had not spread beyond the bed, in check.

The room’s resident told investigators that the battery in the laptop would not hold a charge and only operated if plugged into an electrical outlet. The investigators determined that the fire began when the laptop overheated or its battery pack malfunctioned.

Damage to the building was estimated at $45,000. Damage to the room’s contents was estimated at $5,000. There were no injuries.

House fire claims life of resident
OHIO—A 53-year-old man who used a wheelchair died of smoke inhalation in a fire at a house he shared with his brother.

The one-story, single-family, wood-frame house was 40 feet (12 meters) long by 20 feet (6 meters) wide. A battery-operated smoke alarm in the hallway operated and woke the victim’s brother, who was able to escape. There were no sprinklers.

The brother called 911 at 1 p.m. to report the fire, and firefighters arrived to find smoke and flames coming from the windows at the front of the house. They tried to force open the front door, but it was blocked by the victim, who had tried to escape in his wheel chair. He was found just inside the door of an enclosed porch. After firefighters took the door off its hinges, they finally managed to remove him and extinguish the fire, which had spread to the porch, the eaves, and the attic.

The victim’s brother told fire department investigators that his brother was on medical oxygen.

The house, valued at $8,500, sustained damage estimated at $5,000. Its contents, valued at $5,000, sustained an estimated $3,000 in damage.

71-year old woman dies in house fire
MISSOURI—A 71-year old woman who was physically disabled died of smoke inhalation in a fire in her single-family log home.

The two-story house, built more than 100 years earlier, was 60 feet (18 meters) long and 24 feet (7 meters) wide. In addition to the main house, a wood-frame addition had been added to the original construction. There were no sprinklers.

The fire was discovered by a passerby, who called 911 at 7:35 p.m. to report flames coming from the roof of the home. When firefighters arrived, they found the house heavily involved in flames, which eventually consumed most of the structure. Although investigators could not determine the cause of the blaze, they concluded that it started in the kitchen.

Two weeks before the fire, the fire department had responded to the woman’s home after receiving a report of an electrical problem. During their investigation, firefighters noted that the house did not have any smoke alarms. They returned later with some alarms and offered to install them. The victim declined the firefighters’ assistance with installation, but accepted the smoke alarms and told the firefighters her son would install them. After the fire, investigators found that the smoke alarms had not been installed at the time of the fire.

The value of the house and its contents, which were completely destroyed, was not reported.

Smoke alarm alerts occupants to fire
OHIO—A 45-year-old woman with impaired mobility and who used an oxygen generator was injured in a fire that began in the bedroom of her third-floor apartment located in a multi-family apartment building

The 36-unit, three-story, wood-frame apartment building had a brick veneer and a roof covered with asphalt shingles. Battery-operated smoke alarms were located in each apartment and in the common hallways. The building was unsprinklered.

Firefighters arrived two minutes after the 8:19 a.m. 911 call reporting the fire and found smoke and flames venting from the front corner of the third floor. They advanced hose lines to the third floor, forced open the apartment of origin’s door, and found the victim in the kitchen as they tried to extinguish the blaze. Before they could bring it under control, the fire spread into attic, forcing the incident commander to pull the crews from the building before the roof collapsed.

A neighbor of the victim’s told investigators that he was wakened by the faint sound of a smoke alarm operating in the victim’s apartment and he went over to the apartment to see what was going on. When he tried to open his neighbor’s door, however, he found it locked. He asked another neighbor to call maintenance to check on the unit and returned to his own apartment to get dressed. When he went back into the hallway, he saw black smoke coming from the locked apartment and light smoke filling the hallway. At this point, he began knocking on doors, telling the rest of the building’s occupants to evacuate.

Investigators determined that the fire started in the victim’s bedroom in the area around the oxygen generator, but they could not determine its cause.

A firewall that divided the building into three sections prevented the fire from damaging more than 12 units, limiting structural damage to the building, valued at $3 million, to $700,000. Its contents, valued at $250,000, sustained damage estimated at $200,000. Two firefighters suffered exertion injuries during the incident.

Man dies in fire started by electric blanket
MISSOURI—A 43-year-old man, who was a paraplegic, died of smoke inhalation and burns he sustained when the electric blanket wrapped around him ignited. His 62-year-old mother was injured as she tried unsuccessfully to extinguish the fire with her hands.

The fire started in the attached garage of a single-family, wood-frame house, which had been converted into a bedroom for the victim. The room had battery-operated smoke alarms, which operated as designed. The house had no sprinklers.

The fire department received a 911 call at 7:40 p.m., and arriving firefighters found the lower level well involved in flames, which were spreading to the first floor up an open stairwell. They extinguished the blaze, which investigators believe began when the electric blanket malfunctioned.

Investigators reported that the converted garage had no windows and that the overhead door had been disabled so that the only access to the bedroom was a single interior door. The garage had concrete block walls and a poured concrete roof, which allowed high heat to build up. The operating smoke alarm alerted the victim’s mother, who found him in his wheel chair, wrapped in the burning electric blanket. Her rescue attempts and those by other family members failed as smoke and heat intensified and forced them out of the house.

The home, which was valued at $100,000, sustained damages estimated at $30,000. Its contents, valued at $30,000, sustained an estimated $20,000 in damage.


Fire destroys lumberyard
NEW HAMPSHIRE—A fire destroyed a one-story building that housed an office, a showroom, and a warehouse at a family-owned lumberyard when it raced through the structure’s attic and roof.

The former sawmill building, which was 194 feet (59 meters) long and 85 feet (26 meters) wide, had concrete walls and a metal-covered roof supported by wooden trusses. The only detection system present was a battery-operated smoke alarm in the office break room. The building was not sprinklered.

A passerby noticed flames coming from the building’s cupola and went to a nearby gas station to have someone call 911 at 8:26 p.m. Firefighters arrived four minutes later to find a well-established fire in the attic of the warehouse section of the building and flames venting from the cupola. To allow exterior hose streams to reach the seat of the fire, fire crews had to peel back the building’s metal roof, which eventually collapsed.

Investigators could not determine the cause of the fire, which destroyed the building, valued at $1.6 million, and its contents, valued at $700,000. The fire department report notes that the build owners intended to rebuild the structure, this time with an automatic sprinkler and fire detection system.

Manufacturing plant explosion kills one, injures another
TEXAS—A 30-year-old man died of blunt force trauma and his 36-year-old coworker was burned in an explosion at an industrial plant that produced compressed flammable gas cylinders.

The single-story, steel-frame building had metal walls and a wooden roof supported by steel trusses and covered with a built-up surface. A gas detection system provided local alarm to staff members, who were working on a limited weekend schedule. The plant was not sprinklered.

Investigators determined that the explosion was the result of a detonation of confined fuel gas within a free-standing cylinder in a blending room, but they could not determine the source of the ignition. The room’s blast-proof panels contained the explosion, but the pressure wave destroyed the building, which was valued at $500,000, and its contents, valued at $750,000.


Fatal fire in hair salon
PENNSYLVANIA—A late-night fire claimed the life of a hair salon owner, who managed to call 911 before being overcome inside his shop located in a strip mall. Police responded to a 911 call at 11 p.m and discovered that the salon was on fire. Knowing that the call came from inside, they broke the door glass and found the shop owner directly inside the entrance. They dragged him out, but he had already died of carbon monoxide inhalation.

The single-story salon, which was 69 feet (21 meters) long and varied from 26 feet (8 meters) wide in the front to 43 feet (13 meters) wide in the rear, was of masonry construction with steel roof trusses and a built-up roof surface. There were no fire detection or suppression systems in the mall.

When firefighters arrived, they tried to advance hose lines into the salon but had to retreat five minutes later due to the intense heat. Eventually, the fire vented through the roof at the rear of the unit, damaging the occupancies on either side.

The salon was reported to have been destroyed, and various losses were reported to adjacent businesses, but no dollar loss estimates were reported.


Fire damages high school carpentry shop
MASSACHUSETTS—A fire in the carpentry shop at the rear of a vocational high school caused $1 million in damage, in part because the building was not sprinklered.

The two-story, steel-frame trade school, which covered approximately 217,000 square feet (20,160 square meters), was irregularly shaped, with concrete block walls and metal bar joist roof construction. A fire detection system, including smoke detectors, had been installed in the common hallways, and manual pull stations were connected to a municipal fire alarm system, but there was no detector located in the area of origin. There were no sprinklers.

A teacher was cutting wood with a router in the carpentry shop of a vocational high school in preparation for the next day’s class when he smelled smoke. Turning around, he discovered that a bag filled with dust from a collection system connected to the router had ignited.

The teacher pulled the manual pull station and called 911 at 5:23 p.m., then tried unsuccessfully to control the fire with two portable dry chemical fire extinguishers.

Arriving firefighters ordered a second alarm when they saw smoke billowing from the shop, which was located at the rear of the building. They used two hose lines to extinguish the blaze.

The building and contents, valued at nearly $40 million, sustained an estimated loss of $1 million.


Girl injured when hand sanitizer ignites clothing
OREGON—An 11-year-old girl, who was a patient at a hospital, suffered third-degree burns from her waist to the top of her chest after static electricity from clothing or bedding material ignited her shirt, which was saturated with a mixture of olive oil and ethyl-alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

The six-story, steel-frame hospital, which was 520 feet (128 meters) long and 140 feet (37 meters) wide, had concrete floors and a concrete roof deck. It was protected by an NFPA 13 wet-pipe sprinkler system and an NFPA 72 fire alarm system.

The girl, who was in the patient room with her father, was experimenting with static electricity by rubbing her feet on the bedding and lifting the sheet to see if she could create a static discharge. Earlier in the day, her father had used olive oil to remove adhesive residue from EKG leads on her chest, getting oil in the girl’s hair, on her t-shirt, and on a nearby table. The child had also used a hand sanitizer with an ethyl alcohol base of 50 percent to 70 percent by volume to remove the oil from her hands.

After the girl’s shirt, sweat pants, and hospital identification band burst into flames, she ran into the hall, where a nurse pushed her to the floor while her father smothered the flames. The fire was so small and so quickly contained that it failed to activate the suppression and detection systems. The fire department was only alerted to the incident because the child had been burned.

The girl was transferred to a pediatric burn unit. Her father and the nurse who had come to her aid sustained minor burns to their hands while extinguishing the flames.

Property damage to the hospital was estimated at just $200.