Author(s): Stephen Badger. Published on March 4, 2014.


Grill ignites deck and spreads to interior of home
NORTH CAROLINA — A 36-year-old man and his two daughters, ages 4 and 6, died in a fire that investigators believe began when a charcoal grill on the wooden deck of their home ignited decking material during the night.
The two-story, wood-frame house had smoke detectors on the first and second floors that were tied into a monitored fire and burglar alarm system. There were no sprinklers.

The residents were wakened by the smoke detector and called 911 from the house at 1:50 a.m. The male victim’s wife was on the scene when firefighters arrived and told them that her husband and two children were still inside the house. They advanced a hose line through the front door and tried to go up the stairs to rescue the girls from their bedroom at the front of the house. When high heat and heavy smoke prevented them from advancing to the second floor, additional crews put a ladder up to the girls’ bedroom window and advanced a hose line into the room, where they found the two girls, one on a bed and the other on the floor near the door. Both had been overcome by smoke inhalation. Firefighters found the father outside their room, overcome by smoke.
Only the mother, who suffered smoke inhalation and burns, survived.

Investigators believe that the fire burned on the deck before making its way into the house through the back door. Once inside, it filled both levels of the home with flames, heat, and smoke. They also learned that, although the smoke detector operated, the monitoring company failed to notify the fire department.

The fire destroyed both the house and its contents.

Woman dies when stove ignites clothing
OHIO — A 78-year-old woman died of burns she received when her pajama sleeve caught fire as she cooked breakfast for her husband.

The fire occurred in a two-story, wood-frame house that was 32 feet (10 meters) long and 36 feet (11 meters) wide. The smoke alarm on the first floor of the single-family home operated. There were no sprinklers.

The fire department received a 911 call at 10:25 a.m. reporting the fire, and by the time firefighters arrived at the house, the flames on the victim’s clothing had been extinguished.

Investigators determined that the sleeve of the woman’s loose-fitting flannel pajamas ignited when it passed over the gas burner on which she was cooking eggs. The smoke alarm located just outside the kitchen alerted her husband, who tried to extinguish the fire with his hands, severely burning them. Both victims were taken to a burn clinic, where the woman died of second- and third-degree burns to 60 percent of her body.

No loss estimates were reported for the house, valued at $78,000, or its contents, valued at $10,000. There was only smoke damage in the kitchen.

Man dies in fire he started intentionally
CONNECTICUT — A 43-year-old man died of smoke inhalation in a fire he intentionally set by igniting books and magazines in his apartment.

The victim’s apartment was in a two-story, 50-unit, wood-frame apartment building, which was 84 feet (25 meters) long and 31 feet (9 meters) wide. The building had an automatic fire detection system that provided coverage in the common hallways, as well as battery-operated smoke alarms in the individual apartments. There were no sprinklers.

The fire department received the alarm at 1:38 a.m. from an occupant who called 911 after hearing the fire alarm sound. Firefighters extinguished the fire, which was limited to the unit of origin, soon after they arrived.

Investigators determined that the victim placed a phone book and some magazines on top of the stove and set them on fire with a lighter. He also set fire to plastic CDs and CD cases in the living room.

The building, which was valued at $1.6 million, sustained damage estimated at $54,000. Damage to the bulding’s contents was estimated to be around $4,000.

Fatal fire caused by smoking materials
TEXAS — A 51-year-old man and his 54-year-old wife died of burns and smoke inhalation in a fire that they inadvertantly started when they dropped their lit smoking materials when they fell asleep.

The victims lived in a two-story, eight-unit, wood-frame apartment building, which was 80 feet (24 meters) long and 40 feet (12 meters) wide. The apartment had hardwired smoke alarms with battery backup in the bedrooms and hallways. There were no sprinklers.

A neighbor who heard the smoke alarm sounding in the first-floor apartment below his reported the fire at 4 a.m. Firefighters responded to the call with a single engine, but the call was upgraded to a full first alarm assignment and then a second alarm after they found fire blowing out a patio door and window.

Crews knocked down the fire and discovered the body of the woman between the bedroom and living room, where she had succumbed to her burn injuries. They eventually found the second victim in a neighbor’s apartment, where he had taken shelter after he escaped from the burning unit. He had second- and third-degree burns over 40 percent of his body and was transported to a hospital, then to a burn center, where he died the following week.

Investigators determined that the man fell asleep while smoking on an upholstered recliner in the living room, while his wife fell asleep on a nearby couch. Both of them were later found to have been under the influence of alcohol and prescription medication. The man awoke to find his chair and clothing burning.  Investigators believe that his escape may have been delayed by efforts to locate his wife, who had apparently moved to the bedroom. After failing to escape out the front door, he exited through the patio door, which he left open, allowing fresh air to enter the apartment and intensify the blaze. Firefighters found his wife’s body in the living room.

The apartment, which was valued at $250,000, sustained $60,000 in damage. Its contents sustained $6,000 in damage. The fire department had responded to the same apartment two days before the fatal fire to extinguish another fire that was also caused by smoking materials.

Fire takes life of older woman
NORTH CAROLINA — A 74-year-old woman died of smoke inhalation and burns in a fire that started in the bedroom of her apartment.

The three-story, wood-frame apartment building, which measured 124 feet (38 meters) by 75 feet (23 meters), had hardwired smoke alarms with a battery backup in each of the 24 units, but they were not monitored. A week before the fire, building management had also installed a battery-operated ionization smoke alarm in the bedroom of the unit of origin. There were no sprinklers.

An upstairs neighbor heard the smoke alarm operating in the woman’s first-floor apartment and called 911 at 8:17 a.m. He met the responding firefighters, who arrived six minutes later, outside the first floor apartment and told them that he had heard a smoke alarm operating and the victim’s dog barking about an hour and a half before calling them. When he left for work a short time later, both the alarm and dog were silent.

Although firefighters saw no smoke or flames coming from the building, they noticed that the apartment’s plastic blinds had melted and that heavy smoke had stained the windows. At that point, they forced open the door and entered the apartment, which was filled with heavy black smoke bringing visibility down to zero.

Firefighters began searching the apartment, entering the kitchen first, then the living room, sunroom, and bedroom, which had been heavily involved in a fire that had nearly extinguished itself. When they entered the bathroom, they heard water running and found the victim sitting in the bathtub. They brought her outside, where she was pronounced dead.

Investigators determined that the fire started in a plastic wastebasket and spread to the bed’s dust ruffle, a nightstand, and a chair, as well as the victim’s clothing. Smoking materials in the wastebasket were the only ignition source that was located. They surmised that the woman had awakened and gone to the bathroom, where she filled the tub with water and climbed into it, either to extinguish flames on her clothing or to cool her burns.

Fire damage was limited to the bedroom, although there was heavy smoke damage throughout the apartment. Damage to other apartments in the building was limited by fire separations. Damage to the building, which was valued at $1.8 million, was estimated at $75,000, while damage to its contents, valued at $240,000, was estimated at $10,000.

Fire starts in unoccupied dorm room
ARIZONA — Firefighters responding to a smoke detector activation at a college dormitory found a small fire burning in a plastic trash barrel in a student room.

The seven-story dormitory, which covered an area of approximately 22,000 square feet (2,044 square meters), had a fire detection system that included smoke detectors in all the sleeping rooms and common areas. A wet-pipe sprinkler system provided full coverage, and the water flow was monitored by the fire alarm system.

The fire department received the alarm at 10:23 a.m., and firefighters responded to the scene within four minutes. When they opened the door of the sixth-floor room, they found a small fire burning in a plastic trash can and the remains of a second plastic trash can that had melted to the floor. They used a pressurized portable fire extinguisher to extinguish the fire, although the heat from the fire fused a sprinkler a few seconds after the fire was put out.
The trash bin contained burnt paper, a plastic bottle of lotion, and some food items, but investigators could find no source of ignition. The cause of the fire remains undetermined.

The dormitory, valued at $26 million, and its contents, valued at $10 million, sustained a loss of $45,000.

Spark from wood stove likely cause of fatal fire
OREGON — A 91-year-old man died of smoke inhalation and heat exposure when a fire that started in the living room of his single-family home spread throughout the house, filling it with smoke.

The single-story, wood-frame house had a battery-operated smoke alarm in the living room, but firefighters could not determine whether it operated. There were no sprinklers.
Investigators spoke to the victim’s son, who told them his father typically started a fire in the wood stove in the living room and sat down on the couch to read the newspaper, which he had a habit of spreading out on the floor. They found the door to the wood stove ajar and believe a spark or ember ignited nearby combustibles. They also believe the victim, who was found on the floor in front of the wood stove, was asleep at the time of the fire.

The house, which was valued at $230,000, sustained $130,000 in damage. Its contents, valued at $30,000, sustained about $20,000 in damage.

Overheated coffee maker starts deadly blaze
VIRGINIA — A 60-year-old man died in a fire that began when an electric coffee maker on a kitchen counter malfunctioned and ignited.

The fire occurred in a two-story, single-family, wood-frame home. A hardwired smoke alarm with battery backup had been installed in the second-floor hallway between two bedrooms, but firefighters, who found the remnants of the alarm on the floor beneath its ceiling mount, could not determine whether it operated. There were no sprinklers.

A neighbor noticed the blaze and called the fire department at 3:56 a.m. Once firefighters extinguished the fire, investigators determined that the coffeemaker overheated and ignited, and that flames from the malfunctioning coffee maker spread to overhead cabinets and other combustibles in the kitchen.
From there, the blaze spread throughout the first floor and into concealed ceiling spaces above the kitchen to the room above.

Firefighters believe that the victim was sleeping on the second floor when the fire started. They found his body on the floor of a den beside the first-floor stairwell.

Damage to the house, which was valued at $200,000, was estimated at about $100,000.

Two older adults die in fire
PENNSYLVANIA — Smoke from a small fire killed a 93-year-old woman and an 84-year-old man, who had a mobility disability, in a bedroom in their single-family. The fire began when a worn electrical cord arced and overheated, igniting health care supplies underneath the victim’s hospital bed.

The fire occurred in a single-story, wood-frame house with an asphalt shingled roof that covered an area of approximately 930 square feet (86 square meters). A single smoke alarm had been installed in the kitchen pantry, but its battery was dead. There were no sprinklers.

One of the occupants noticed the fire and called 911 at 1:18 a.m. Arriving firefighters found that the fire had burned itself out, but not before the man and woman were both exposed to high levels of carbon monoxide.

The house, valued at $38,000, sustained $15,000 in damage. Its contents, valued at $20,000, sustained $5,000 in damage. Lack of housekeeping and poor storage habits contributed to the fire.

Sprinkler controls fire in elderly housing
IOWA — A single sprinkler controlled a fire in a 36-unit apartment building housing older adults until firefighters arrived to extinguish it.
The three-story, wood-frame building, which covered approximately 13,000 square feet (1,208 square meters), was protected by a monitored wet-pipe NFPA 13R automatic sprinkler system. Hard-wired smoke alarms were present in all units.

The fire department received the alarm at 4:20 p.m., and firefighters responded to a third-floor unit where they discovered a fire that had nearly been extinguished. Investigators determined that an electrical power cord plugged into a computer on a desk in the living room malfunctioned, starting a fire that spread from the computer’s plastic housing to the desk before the sprinkler in the room activated.

The building, valued at $1.5 million, sustained $9,000 in damage, mostly from water. Damage to its contents was estimated at $1,000. There were no injuries.


Fire damages seven boats at dock
CALIFORNIA — An electrical failure in or around a refrigerator on a 36-foot (11-meter) motorboat moored at a yacht club ignited nearby combustibles, starting a fire that spread through the boat, then to six other boats at the same dock.

The seven boats involved, one of which was a sailboat, were 25 to 40 feet (7 to 12 meters) long. The dock to which they were moored had connections for power and water for each boat. However, the dock was not equipped with fire suppression or detection equipment.

A passerby called 911 at 9 p.m. to report a boat on fire, and firefighters arrived to find several boats on fire and some drifting away as their mooring lines burned through. Once fire crews brought the blaze under control, the yacht club arranged to have four of the damaged boats, some of which were burned to the water line, towed to a dry dock.

There was no one on the boat of fire origin when the fire began.

The boats sustained damage ranging from moderate to severe, as did the dock. Property loss was estimated at $1.3 million.


Sprinkler controls fire caused by smoking materials
FLORIDA — A single sprinkler in a clothing store controlled a fire started by a cigarette that had been left burning near some combustibles.
The two-story building, which had exterior brick walls and a wood joist roof covered by asphalt shingles, had a large sales area and several smaller rooms, including stock rooms on the second floor. A wet-pipe sprinkler system protected the storage areas, but there were no smoke detectors or automatic fire alarm system.

The owner of the business was smoking in a second-floor stock room when a customer came into the store. He went downstairs to serve her, leaving the cigarette burning in a location he thought was safe. Upon returning to the stock room, however, he noticed smoke and flames starting to spread along a bookcase. He pushed the case over in an attempt to stop the fire from spreading and tried to smother the flames with a blanket. When that failed, an employee used a portable fire extinguisher on the blaze without success.

Another occupant of the building called 911 at 12:30 p.m., and firefighters arrived minutes later to find light smoke coming from the building. They advanced a 13⁄4-inch hose line to the second floor, where they saw a single sprinkler operating near the seat of the flames, controlling the fire until they could extinguish it.

Investigators confirmed that the lit cigarette started the fire.

The building, which was valued at $1 million, and its contents, which were valued at $500,000, sustained a combined damage estimated at no more than $1,000.


Flue pipe of heater ignites structural framing
CALIFORNIA — A sprinkler controlled a fire in a shed housing a health club’s swimming pool heater until responding firefighters arrived to extinguish it.

The single-story, wood-frame shed, which was attached to the fitness club, held the pool heater, the flue of which went through the roof between two roof joists. It was protected by a monitored wet-pipe sprinkler system that provided full coverage.

The fire department received a call from the club at 8:50 a.m., and firefighters arrived four minutes later to find the sprinkler operating and the club staff controlling the fire with portable fire extinguishers.

Investigators determined that heat from the heating unit and flue pipe, which had been in place for some 30 years, had dried out the wood roof joists, which eventually ignited.

Damage to the shed roof was estimated at $1,000.


Two children die in RV fire they started with matches
CALIFORNIA — Two girls, ages 3 and 2, died of smoke inhalation and burns in a fire they started while playing with matches in the living room of a travel trailer.

The metal-frame trailer, a fifth-wheel type designed to be towed by another vehicle, provided approximately 240 square feet (22 square meters) of living space. It had no smoke alarms or sprinklers.

The fire was reported at 1:35 p.m. Although dispatch received conflicting information about its location, firefighters could see the smoke column as they left the station. By the time fire crews arrived, the blaze had spread throughout the trailer, engulfing the interior and causing the roof and some of the walls to burn away.

The mother of one of the girls told firefighters that two children might be trapped inside. After knocking down the flames with a 13⁄4-inch hose line, fire crews found the body of the first child near the rear of the trailer. They discovered the body of the second child a little further forward. They left the bodies in place for the investigators.

The fire destroyed the trailer and its contents, which together were valued at $6,000.