Author(s): Ken Tremblay. Published on May 2, 2014.


Smoking materials start fatal fire
MASSACHUSETTS—An 84-year-old woman died and a 54-year-old man and a 59-year-old woman were injured in a fire that started in the first-floor apartment of a three-unit apartment building when one of the occupants fell asleep while smoking in bed. The home oxygen the occupant was using intensified the blaze.

The three-story, wood-frame apartment building had local smoke alarms in each apartment, as well as interconnected, hardwired smoke detectors in all the common spaces. The building had no sprinklers.

A resident called the fire department to report the fire at 12:37 a.m. When firefighters arrived minutes later, they found the first floor engulfed in flames that were spreading from the front and left side of the building to the roof.

Investigators determined that smoking materials ignited bedding in the first-floor apartment and that the fire spread as the occupants tried to control the flames. When they failed to extinguish the fire, they left the unit to notify other occupants. Eventually, the fire created enough heat to rupture an oxygen cylinder in an adjacent room, which caused the fire to intensify until flashover occurred and the entire floor was engulfed in flames.

The location and cause of death of the 84-year-old woman were not reported. The injured man was severely burned, and the woman suffered from smoke inhalation. The building and its contents, valued at $196,000, were destroyed.

Two die in house fire
TENNESSEE—A 91-year-old man and an 89-year-old woman died in a fire in their home that investigators determined was electrical in origin.

The single-family, wood-frame house, which covered approximately 1,075 square feet (100 square meters), was one story on the street side, but two stories at the rear due to a grade. An older, low-voltage fire alarm system was installed in the home, but its power had been disconnected and the system had no batteries. There were no sprinklers.

A passerby saw smoke and flames coming from the house and called 911 at 12:39 p.m. When firefighters arrived, they found fire venting from two doors, a window, and the roof, and advanced a hose line through the front door to attack the blaze.

Search crews found the body of the man at the top of the stairs leading to the basement and the body of the woman lying directly behind him. A 21⁄2-pound dry chemical fire extinguisher lay nearby.

Investigators determined that the fire, which they attributed to a faulty electrical source, began at floor level in the kitchen and spread into the dining and living rooms, where heat caused a window and a double door to break, allowing the fire to vent. About two months before the fire, the kitchen had been renovated. Investigators also discovered aluminum wiring throughout the home.

Fire damage was limited to the kitchen, living room, and dining room, although smoke and soot was found throughout the house. The structure, valued at $123,000, sustained $50,000 in damage, while damage to its contents, valued at $86,000, was estimated at $20,000.

Hoarding prevents escape in fatal fire
MASSACHUSETTS—An 85-year-old man was found dead in the basement of his single-family home, where he had begun living when waist-high trash and debris took over the first floor, making it uninhabitable.

The one-story, wood-frame house, which was 35 feet (11 meters) long and 20 feet (6 meters) wide, had a smoke alarm, but the alarm had no batteries. There were no sprinklers.

A neighbor called 911 to report the fire at 12:08 a.m. When firefighters arrived, they had difficulty entering the house, given the amount of debris inside. Upon extinguishing the fire, they found the victim’s body in the basement, from which he’d been unable to escape.

Investigators determined that the fire started in the basement, where an extension cord used to power an electric heater was buried beneath debris. When the cord overheated and ignited, the fire spread to the items filling the space around it.

The house, valued at $114,700, sustained an estimated $20,000 in damage. One firefighter received minor injuries.

Overheated electrical extension cord starts fatal fire
KENTUCKY—Firefighters found the body of a 26-year-old woman in her bedroom in a manufactured home, where she had been overcome by smoke when the electric extension cord used to power a cooling unit in the living room ignited.

The three-bedroom, wood-frame house, the exterior walls and roof of which were constructed of metal, had no smoke alarms or sprinklers.

Six minutes after the woman called 911 at 3:50 p.m., firefighters arrived to find the fire confined to the wooden wall paneling and couch in the living room in the middle of the home. After they knocked down the flames, they conducted a primary search and found the victim in the bedroom.

Investigators determined that the extension cord, which was undersized, overheated, ignited, and started the fire. Although the blaze did not spread beyond the living room, smoke spread throughout the dwelling.

Neither the value of the house and its contents nor the amount of damage was reported.

Camping stove starts fatal fire
TENNESSEE—A 40-year-old man died in a fire that started when a camping stove he was using for heat ignited combustible products stored nearby.

The single-story, wood-frame house, which covered an area of 1,300 square feet (121 square meters), had no smoke alarms or sprinklers.

A neighbor discovered the fire and called 911 at 6:45 a.m. Responding firefighters found that the fire, which had apparently been burning for some time, was confined to the kitchen. Investigators determined that the victim had set the camping stove on top of his kitchen stove for cooking and heat because his electricity had been cut off due to nonpayment.

The house, which was valued at $120,000, sustained an estimated $40,000 in damage. Its contents, valued at $20,000, sustained damage estimated at $10,000.

Victim’s clothing ignites
VIRGINIA—A 92-year-old man, who used a walker, died of burns he suffered when his clothes ignited during a fire that started when oil he had left heating in a pan ignited.

The 14-story, steel-frame apartment building, which contained 203 units, had no sprinklers. However, local smoke alarms had been installed in each unit, and the common areas were equipped with smoke detectors and manual pull stations.

The victim, who was still conscious when firefighters arrived, told them that he used the water spray from his kitchen faucet to extinguish the flames, then removed his burned clothes and walked to the foyer to call for help. A neighbor heard his cries and called 911 at 9:40 p.m. He was taken to the hospital, where he died.

Investigators found evidence in the kitchen consistent with the victim’s account. The burner controls were located on the back of the stove, and when the man reached over the flaming pan to turn off the burner, his sleeve ignited.

Property damage was estimated at approximately $2,000.

Candle starts fatal fire
ARKANSAS—A 72-year-old woman with an unspecified disability died of injuries she sustained in a fire started by a candle in her single-family home. Four other occupants, ranging in age from 16 to 41, were also injured but managed to escape from the house.

The wood-frame dwelling, which had a brick veneer and a wooden roof covered in asphalt shingles, had no smoke alarms or sprinklers.

One of the occupants discovered the blaze when he woke up and found his bedding on fire. After failing to extinguish the flames, he alerted the other residents, one of whom called 911 at 5:28 a.m. All but the victim managed to escape despite the fact that the fire was blocking the primary escape route.

When firefighters arrived, they discovered the occupants outside the house. Firefighting efforts were delayed while crews treated the injured and tried to establish a water supply.

Investigators determined that the fire began when the man fell asleep in the den, which he was using as a bedroom, leaving a candle burning.

The house, which was valued at $50,000, and its contents, valued at $20,000, were destroyed.

Two die in rooming house fire
PENNSYLVANIA—A fire in a single-family home that had been converted illegally into a rooming house with five separate units killed two women, ages 60 and 79, and injured a third.

The three-story, wood-frame house had a battery-operated smoke alarm in the second-floor hallway, but its battery had been disconnected. It was also equipped with a heat detection system, but the system was not functioning. There were no sprinklers.

A passerby reported the fire to 911 at 3:30 p.m. After firefighters extinguished the blaze, investigators determined that it had started in a second-floor room at the rear of the building when a discarded cigarette ignited bedding and spread to the hallway and apartment above. The location of the two women, who died of smoke inhalation and thermal burns, was not reported. Nor was the location of the 48-year-old injured woman, who was found to be intoxicated.

The house, valued at $65,000, sustained damages estimated at $40,000. Its contents, which were valued at $2,000, were destroyed.

Roof deck of high rise ignites
NEBRASKA—Smoking materials discarded on the roof deck of a 10-story apartment building started a fire that spread to the built-up deck surface before firefighters were able to extinguish the flames.

The steel-frame apartment building, which was 97 feet (30 meters) long by 32 feet (10 meters) wide, had an operating fire alarm system and a wet-pipe sprinkler system. Its roof deck consisted of wooden decking laid on top of a built-up surface of asphalt and crushed rock. Two natural gas-fired cooking grills were located on the deck, where building occupants often gathered to barbecue.

Several passersby noticed the fire and called the fire department at 12:57 p.m. When firefighters arrived minutes later, they saw smoke coming from the building’s roof. Once on the roof, they extinguished the flames on the deck and portions of the roof that had also become involved.

Investigators interviewed many of the building’s residents, but none admitted to having been on the roof or smoking, despite evidence of discarded cigarettes between the decking and the report of an occupant who heard people on the roof the night before the fire. The investigators determined that discarded cigarettes were responsible for the blaze.

Damage, estimated at $10,000, was limited to a portion of the deck and roof. There were no injuries.

Cigarette starts fire on balcony
MISSOURI—The occupant of a second-floor apartment inadvertently started a $2 million fire when he discarded a cigarette butt in a red plastic pail on his balcony.

The three-story, wood-frame building contained 48 apartments divided by a firewall. Each half of the structure contained 24 units divided into two sections with four apartments on each floor. Each unit was equipped with local smoke alarms and a portable fire extinguisher under the kitchen sink, but the building had no sprinklers.

Shortly after 6 a.m., the occupant of a second-floor unit was awakened by the apartment’s smoke alarm. Smelling smoke, he went to investigate and found a fire burning on his balcony. He woke his roommate, and together they tried to douse the fire with the portable extinguisher. When they failed, they left the apartment and alerted other occupants to the fire before calling 911 at 6:15 a.m.

Responding firefighters found that the blaze had spread to the balcony directly above the balcony of origin and into the attic, causing sections of the roof to collapse before crews could extinguish the fire.

Investigators spoke with both of the occupants, one of whom reported smoking on the balcony at about 3 that morning before going to bed. He disposed of his cigarette in the red plastic pail, which eventually ignited. The fire then spread to plastic barrels and plant containers on the balcony and then into void spaces in the balcony construction to the attic, where it involved the wood framing and roof. Based on the evidence and testimony of the occupants, the investigators ruled the fire unintentional.

Valued at $4 million, the building sustained an estimated loss of $2 million. Its contents, valued at $240,000, sustained an estimated $180,000 in damage. Two firefighters suffered non-reported injuries.

Mother, two children die in apartment fire
OKLAHOMA—A 26-year-old mother and her two children, ages 7 and 3, died of smoke inhalation in a fire in her second-floor apartment after she called her mother, who lived in an apartment below, rather than 911. When smoke and flames prevented the woman’s mother from entering the apartment to rescue her daughter and grandchildren, she called 911 at 11:50 a.m.

The unsprinklered, wood-frame apartment building contained eight units, with four on the first floor and four on the second. Smoke alarms were known to be present in the apartment of fire origin, but investigators could not locate them during the salvage operation.

The fire occurred in the apartment’s living room and spread down the hallway, trapping the three victims behind a closed door in a bedroom. Firefighters found the woman and her 7-year-old on the bed. The body of the 3-year-old was found on the floor. Investigators noted that a window in the bedroom could have been used for escape but was not.

Investigators could not determine the cause of the fire, although they believe that the woman, who worked the night shift, may have been asleep when it started.

The fire caused an estimated $150,000 in damage to the building, which was valued at $400,000, and $75,000 in damage to its contents, valued at $150,000.

Sprinkler controls apartment fire
COLORADO—A single sprinkler controlled a fire that spread into a second-floor apartment from the apartment’s deck where it began when discarded smoking materials ignited a plastic pail, decking material, and plastic furniture.

The three-story, wood-frame apartment building, which was 178 feet (54 meters) long by 85 feet (26 meters) wide, had a brick veneer and a wooden roof deck covered with asphalt shingles. A wet-pipe sprinkler protected the building and operated as designed. The fire department report did not mention whether smoke alarms or detectors were present.

The building’s sprinkler system operated shortly after 3 a.m., notifying the central station alarm company, which alerted the fire department at 3:13 a.m. After the firefighters extinguished the remains of the fire, investigators found evidence of smoking materials in the burned plastic pail and determined that strong winds had caused the fire to spread from the pail, to the synthetic deck surface and the plastic chairs before it extended into the building.

The value of the building and its contents was not reported, but total property damage was estimated at $18,000. There were no injuries.

Unattended cooking leads to fatal fire
MARYLAND—A 79-year-old man died of smoke inhalation and burns during a fire that started in the kitchen of his apartment when food he had left cooking unattended in a microwave ignited.

The 18-story apartment building, which housed older adults, had no sprinklers in the units or in the common areas. However, every unit was equipped with local smoke alarms.

Firefighters, who arrived on scene minutes after the fire was reported at 6:54 p.m., found the door to the 16th-floor apartment locked and forced their way in. Once inside, they found the victim lying on the kitchen floor with his clothing in flames. He was unconscious but breathing, and they transported him to the hospital, where he succumbed to his injuries.

Investigators found the remains of the victim’s dinner half in and half out of the microwave oven and determined that the food had ignited when left unattended. The location of the burnt meal and the proximity of the victim suggested that he was trying to remove the food from the microwave as the flames spread to combustibles on the counter, the stove, the kitchen floor, and his clothes.

The victim, who was using home oxygen at the time of the fire, had recently returned home from a stay in the hospital and had to use a walker for support when moving around
his apartment.

Property damage to the apartment contents was estimated at $2,000. Damage to the structure was estimated at $10,000.


Sprinklers control fire in manufacturing plant
ILLINOIS—Three sprinklers managed to keep a fire in the below-grade mechanical shaft of a large manufacturing building in check until firefighters arrived to extinguish the blaze.

The two-story commercial building, which was 100 feet (30 meters) long and 200 feet (61 meters) wide, had metal walls and a metal bar joist roof covered with a metal deck and a rubber roof. The property was protected by a wet-pipe sprinkler system, with water flow monitored by a fire alarm system that reported to a central station alarm company.

The fire department received a call from the alarm company at 12:55 a.m., and responding firefighters discovered three sprinklers operating over a fire in the mechanical shaft. They extinguished the blaze without any difficulty.

Investigators found that a part in an industrial air unit failed and ignited the unit’s plastic and wiring before spreading to plastic shelving where products were stored. When the sprinklers activated, the internal fire alarm did, too, notifying the building’s occupants, who evacuated.

The building, which was valued at $2 million, sustained an estimated $2,000 in property damage. Damage to its contents, which were valued at $1 million, was estimated at $3,000. There were no injuries.


Sprinkler suppresses incendiary fire in nursing home
OREGON—A single sprinkler extinguished a fire on the second-floor landing of a stairwell in a nursing home before firefighters arrived.

The two-story, wood-frame building, which covered an area of approximately 40,000 square feet (3,716 square meters), had an NFPA 72-
compliant fire detection system and an NFPA 13 automatic fire sprinkler system that provided full coverage.
A central station alarm company monitored both the fire alarm system and water flow.

The fire department received the alarm at 12:15 p.m. By the time firefighters responded, they found that the sprinklers had already extinguished the blaze.

Investigators determined that someone had deliberately ignited a decorative grass plant on the landing. Fire damage was limited to the plant.

The building, which was valued at $4,127,000, sustained an estimated $11,000 in property damage. There were no injuries.