Author(s): Ken Tremblay. Published on May 1, 2015.


Boy playing with lighter starts apartment building fire

CALIFORNIA—An 11-year-old boy playing with a lighter set fire to a blanket and an upholstered chair in his first-floor apartment.

The 12-unit, two-story, wood-frame apartment building, which covered approximately 5,000 square feet (465 square meters), had smoke alarms in each unit. There were no sprinklers.

After the boy pulled the blanket out to the patio to extinguish the fire, he returned to the living room, where he found an upholstered chair in flames. He then ran to the building manager’s office to summon help.

The fire department received the call at 2:41 p.m. as flames engulfed the first-floor apartment, fed by air flowing into it from the patio door and the apartment’s front door, both of which the boy had left open. The fire spread to the apartment above the unit of origin and up into the attic, requiring firefighters to call for additional resources. Once the fire took hold of the attic, fire crews were pulled out and fought the blaze defensively using master and aerial master streams.

The apartment building, valued at $3.4 million, sustained losses estimated at $800,000. Damage to its contents, valued at $250,000, was estimated at $200,000.

Electrical power strips start fire in garage

CALIFORNIA—An electrical fire heavily damaged the three-car garage attached to a single-family home, as well as the house itself.

The fire department report of the fire did not state whether the two-story, wood-frame house had any fire detection or suppression equipment.

A neighbor called 911 to report the blaze at 9:01 p.m. after she heard yelling and looked outside to see the homeowner trying to control a fire in his garage. Firefighters arrived four minutes later to find the garage completely involved in flames, which were starting to spread to the house. After calling for additional resources, they used a 2 1/2-inch hose line to knock down the fire and keep it from engulfing the house.

Investigators determined that two multioutlet electrical power strips that had been connected to supply several appliances overheated and ignited combustibles in a garage bay, in which the family stored a personal watercraft, a camper cover for a truck, a wooden desk, cabinets containing paint, and other items that presented a significant fuel load.

The fire did $284,000 worth of damage to the dwelling and $142,000 worth of damage to its contents. In addition, damage to an adjacent structure and contents was estimated at $113,000. One firefighter was injured.

Two die in house fire

VIRGINIA—A 36-year-old woman and her 18-month-old son died in their single-family row house in a fire that investigators determined was intentionally set by the female victim.

The two-and-a-half story, wood-frame house, which measured approximately 30 feet (9 meters) by 20 feet (6 meters), had a hardwired smoke detector on the second floor, but investigators could not determine whether it operated during the fire.

A passerby saw smoke and flames coming from the house and reported the fire to a nearby fire station at 7:40 a.m. Responding firefighters found the woman trapped by flames on the porch roof and immediately raised a 24-foot (7-meter) ground ladder in an effort to rescue her. However, she became extremely combative and had to be forcibly prevented from re-entering the burning house. It took several firefighters to remove her from the roof. As crews advanced a hose line into the house, they found the child and removed him to the front yard, where he and his mother were treated for burns and smoke inhalation.

Upon entering the house, the investigators found the entire dwelling in disarray. Furniture throughout had been overturned and what appeared to be powdered laundry detergent had been strewn over everything. They determined that the fire began in the master bedroom on the second floor, where they found evidence of discarded cigarette butts, incense, and disposable lighters. Investigators learned that the mother, who was suffering from a mental illness, was distraught over an impending eviction and had threatened to burn down her home.

Damage to the home, valued at $98,000, was estimated at $21,000.

Sprinkler controls fire started by child playing with lighter

ARIZONA—A four-year-old boy playing with a lighter ignited clothing in a closet in his two-family home. Fortunately, heat from the fire activated a residential sprinkler, which extinguished the flames before they spread throughout the house.

Each unit of the one-story, wood-frame dwelling covered approximately 1,500 square feet (139 square meters). The bedrooms and hallways were equipped with smoke detectors, and a wet-pipe sprinkler system protected the entire structure.

The smoke detectors sounded at 3:12 p.m., alerting an unidentified occupant, who called 911. Upon arrival, firefighters noted light smoke coming from the house and discovered the remains of the fire in the closet.

The boy was not injured, and damage to the house, valued at $240,000, was estimated at just $1,200.

Man dies in kitchen fire

TENNESSEE—A 64-year-old man died in a fire that was determined by investigators to have started in cookware on the kitchen stove, then spread to a family room and hallway.

The one-story, wood-frame dwelling, which was 50 feet (15 meters) long and 20 feet (6 meters) wide, had smoke alarms outside the bedrooms and in the stairwell leading to the basement.

A passerby discovered the fire and called 911 at 1 a.m. Responding firefighters found heavy flames coming from the rear of the house and the attic, and advanced two hose lines into the building to attack the fire in the kitchen and in the living room and bedrooms. During a secondary search of the premises, they located the victim’s body in the kitchen.

The house, which was valued at $120,000, sustained an estimated $80,000 in damage. Its contents, which were valued at $50,000, sustained $1,500 in damage.

Smoking materials start porch fire

MASSACHUSETTS—A fire that started on the wooden porch of a multiple-family house quickly spread inside the building and to other properties on three sides.

The three-story, wood-frame building measured 40 feet (12 meters) by 30 feet (9 meters) and contained several living units. Wooden porches built across the rear of the house provided access to all three levels. Each unit was equipped with battery-operated smoke alarms that operated as designed to alert occupants. There were no sprinklers.

The fire department received a report of the fire at 7:13 a.m., and the first-due company arrived about a minute later to find heavy smoke and flames coming from the back of the building. The officer immediately called for a second alarm. As the fire spread to adjacent buildings and two vehicles, the incident commander ordered a third, fourth, and fifth alarm.

Investigators determined that the fire started when someone disposed of smoking materials on the second-floor porch.

The building of origin sustained $700,000 in fire damage, with an additional $200,000 in damage to its contents. Two adjacent buildings each received damages estimated at $25,000, while a third received damages estimated at $15,000. Two vehicles parked nearby were also destroyed.

Unattended cooking causes residential fire

MINNESOTA—A fire that started when the occupant of a second-floor apartment left a pan of food heating on the stove was quickly doused by the building’s sprinklers before it could do much damage.

The two-story concrete structure, which measured 141 feet (43 meters) by 30 feet (9 meters), had been converted from a motel into a nine-unit apartment building. Each apartment contained hardwired smoke detectors with battery back-up, as well as a full-coverage wet-pipe sprinkler system that was monitored by a central station alarm company.

An occupant below the unit of origin called 911 at 3 p.m. after she heard the smoke alarm sounding and saw water dripping into her own apartment from above. By the time firefighters arrived, a single sprinkler head had extinguished the blaze, which investigators determined started when the food in the pan overheated and spread around the stovetop until the sprinklers activated.

Damage to the building was estimated at $5,000, while damage to its contents came to $2,000.

Woman recovering from accident dies in house fire

NEW YORK—A woman who was recovering from an accident succumbed to smoke inhalation when a fire started in her bedroom in her single-family home.

The three-story, wood-frame house was 40 feet (12 meters) long by 25 feet (8 meters) wide. The top floor was used for storage, and the bottom two floors contained the living and sleeping areas. Battery-operated smoke alarms were located in the hallways next to the bedrooms, but they were not operating when firefighters arrived. There were no sprinklers.

At approximately 2:18 a.m., the victim’s husband came home from work and found heavy smoke pouring from the house. He ran inside and up the stairway to the master bedroom to find his wife but was driven back by heat and smoke. Police officers, who arrived before the fire department, also tried to rescue the woman, but they could not reach her.

Firefighters arrived shortly afterward to find smoke and flames pouring from two windows in the master bedroom, which had flashed over. Once they knocked the fire down, they found the victim about 5 feet (1.5 meters) from her bedroom door.

Investigators determined that the fire was started by a candle or smoking materials. The woman was on pain medication, which may have contributed to her inability to evacuate.

The fire spread to the third-floor attic before it was extinguished, destroying the house, which was valued at $100,000. Its contents, valued at $75,000, sustained damage estimated at $45,000.

Camping fuel ignites victim’s clothing, killing him

WISCONSIN—An 82-year-old man knocked a lantern over on the deck of his manufactured home and it exploded, igniting his clothing and starting a fire on the deck. The man walked to a neighbor’s house to call for help, but died of his injuries in the hospital the following day.

The home, which was located in the woods, was 20 feet (6 meters) long and 10 feet (3 meters) wide, with a deck on one side. It had neither smoke alarms nor sprinklers.

The fire destroyed the house, valued at $10,000, and it contents, which were valued at $1,000.

Man dies of smoke inhalation in house fire

ILLINOIS—A 58-year-old man died of smoke inhalation in a fire of undetermined origin in a single-family home. The two-story, wood-frame house, which covered 1,050 square feet (98 square meters), had no smoke alarms or sprinklers.

A neighbor walking by the house saw smoke and went to investigate. He went to a window located on the north side and yelled inside, where he could hear the occupant calling for help. The neighbor went to the back door and tried to force it open. Unable to do so, he returned to the north window and yelled in again, but could no longer hear the occupant. Police officers arriving in response to a 911 call also tried to enter the house without success.

When firefighters arrived, they extinguished the blaze and found the victim’s body near the rear of the house. Investigators determined that the fire started near a bedroom when stored newspapers and other contents ignited. They could not determine the exact cause of ignition. Winds gusting from 13 to 20 miles (21 to 32 kilometers) per hour may have contributed to the intensity of the fire, as did the windows and doors opened by rescuers.

Damage to the house and its contents was estimated at $76,000.

Woman dies when cigarette ignites clothing

VIRGINIA—A 65-year-old woman with mobility impairments died of burns and smoke inhalation in her bedroom on the first floor of her single-family home when the cigarette she was smoking ignited her bathrobe.

The two-story, wood-frame house, which was 110 feet (34 meters) long and 45 feet (14 meters) wide, had battery-operated smoke alarms in hallways of the basement and the first and second floors. However, many of the alarms had no batteries.

The victim called 911 at 3:53 a.m. to report the fire and stayed on the line with dispatchers until she was overcome. Firefighters who arrived shortly after the call found her body on her bed. Three other people in the house, who were unaware of the fire because the smoke alarms failed to operate, either self-evacuated or were removed by firefighting crews. All three experienced smoke inhalation injuries.

Investigators determined that the victim, who had previously suffered a stroke, was smoking in her bedroom when the cigarette ignited her robe, starting a fire that spread to other contents of the room.

Fire damage, which was limited to the room of origin and the hallway, was estimated at $100,000.

Woman on home oxygen dies in smoking fire

WYOMING—A 56-year-old woman died of injuries she sustained when she fell while trying to extinguish a fire that started when her smoking materials ignited tubing delivering home oxygen. Investigators determined that, as the fire spread along the tubing, the victim went into the bathroom, where she tried to extinguish the flames. However, the fire spread to the oxygen concentrator approximately 35 feet (11 meters) away, before spreading to other combustibles.

The exterior of the steel-frame manufactured home, which was 14 feet (4 meters) wide and 66 feet (20 meters) long, was sheathed in wood, and the home had a metal roof. There were no smoke alarms or sprinklers.

A passerby saw the fire and called 911 at 12:41 p.m. Responding firefighters found the smoke and flames coming from the center portion of the home. After they knocked the fire down, they found the victim in a bedroom near a bed.

Investigators found the burned remains of nearly 30 feet (9 meters) of oxygen tubing leading from the victim’s bedroom to the living room oxygen concentrator.

They determined that the plastic nasal cannula ignited while the victim was wearing it and that she threw it to the floor and tried unsuccessfully to extinguish the flames. The coroner determined that the victim, who had limited mobility, died from blunt force trauma indicative of a fall, rather than the effects of the fire, heat, or smoke.

Both the home, valued at $5,000, and its contents, valued at $10,000, were destroyed.

House fire claims two lives

CALIFORNIA—A 77-year-old man and 77-year-old woman died of smoke and burns as a result of a fire in their single-family home. The single-story, wood-frame house had no smoke alarms or sprinklers.

A neighbor called 911 at 11:47 p.m. to report flames coming from the house next door, telling the dispatcher that the man, who was severely burned, was on the front lawn and the woman, who used a walker, was trapped inside the dwelling. When firefighters arrived, they saw heavy smoke coming from the structure and flames pushing out a rear window. They entered the house to find a thick layer of smoke 2 feet (0.6 meters) off the floor and tried to use a thermal imaging camera to find the trapped victim. However, interior temperature was so hot that firefighters were unable to distinguish the floor plan on the screen.

Advancing a hose line from the front of the house to the rear, they finally found the victim in the bathroom and removed her from the structure. Both occupants died as a result of their injuries, the male from extensive third degree burn injuries and the female from smoke inhalation.

Investigators determined that the fire started in an electric ceiling-mounted fan in the kitchen and spread up into the attic and down into the kitchen and other interior spaces.

Damage to the building and its contents was estimated at $210,000.


Sprinklers control fire in school classroom

NEW JERSEY—A maintenance crew cleaning a school that was being used as a summer day camp placed boxes and construction debris on a stove in a first-floor classroom. When the debris pushed up against the stove’s controls, the stove began to heat up, igniting the boxes and sending flames up the wall until a sprinkler activated.

The two-story, steel-frame school had concrete walls and a metal deck roof covered with a rubber membrane. It was equipped with a fire detection system and a wet-pipe sprinkler system, both monitored by a central station alarm company.

A 911 call and alarm transmission notified the fire department of the fire at 12:30 p.m., and crews arrived minutes later to find smoke filling the building. They used a 1 3/4-inch hose line to extinguish the fire and removed the smoke using fans.

Damage, estimated at $10,000, was confined to the walls and ceiling of the alcove containing the stove. There were no injuries.


Sprinkler controls nursing home fire

NORTH CAROLINA—Nursing home staff responding to a fire alarm saw smoke coming from under a resident’s door. Before they could attack the fire with their portable extinguishers, however, a sprinkler activated and put the flames out.

The single-story nursing home, which measured 200 feet (61 meters) by 132 feet (40 meters), provided 24-hour skilled nursing care. It was equipped throughout with a fire alarm and detection system that included smoke detectors with battery back-up. A full-coverage wet-pipe sprinkler system had also been installed.

The fire department responded to the fire alarm at 6:36 p.m. When firefighters arrived three minutes later, nothing was showing from the building, although they saw the remains of a burned chair outside the building under the window of the room of origin. When they entered the nursing home, they found that the staff had begun relocating residents to another nursing facility.

Investigators determined that a recliner in the room had been intentionally ignited by one of the room’s residents. The chair was not properly rated for use in a nursing home.

Damage to the nursing home, valued at more than $4.4 million, was estimated at $25,000. Damage to the contents was estimated at $3,000. Two facility employees were treated for smoke exposure at the scene.


Sprinklers save business

ARIZONA—Two sprinklers spared a manufacturing facility significant damage by controlling a fire that started in a manufacturing process area until firefighters extinguished it.

The single-story, steel-frame building, which was 500 feet (152 meters) long and 100 feet (30 meters) wide, had smoke and heat detectors that were monitored by a central station alarm company, which also monitored the wet-pipe sprinkler system.

The fire started in the ventilation system of a grinding machine that trimmed rubber material for conveyor belts the plant manufactured. The ventilation system filled with rubber particles from the grinding operation, and the particles caught fire inside the ventilation system’s plastic exhaust hose, causing the hose to melt and allowing the fire to spread to conveyor belts stored on the wall.

Damage was limited to the grinding machine and the ventilation system tubing, for an estimated loss of $8,000.

Air compressor fails, starts fire

TENNESSEE—Three sprinklers confined a fire to an attached room at the rear of a plant that manufactured heating equipment parts until firefighters arrived to extinguish it. The plant was closed at the time of the fire.

The fire started in a compressor room, measuring 16 feet (5 meters) by 30 feet (9 meters), that was attached to the 120,000-square-foot (11,148-square-meter), steel-frame manufacturing building. The single-story building was protected by a wet-pipe sprinkler system.

The fire department arrived three minutes after receiving the water flow alarm at 6:18 p.m. to find smoke coming from one side of the building. A ladder company sizing up the property noted smoke coming from the vents of the compressor room. After entering the plant, firefighters found the sprinklers controlling the fire, which they extinguished with a hose.

Investigators discovered that oil leaking from a faulty air compressor ignited when the compressor overheated and that the fire spread to an oil storage vat.

Damage to the building, which was valued at $441,800, and its contents, which were valued at $25 million, was estimated at $57,000. No one was injured during the blaze.

Plant explosion injures three

IOWA—Shortly after the third shift began at a plant that manufactured plastic laminate, an explosion tore through the building, injuring three workers and damaging the structure.

The three-story, steel-frame building had a full-coverage wet-pipe sprinkler system and a monitored fire alarm. The plant was also equipped with portable fire extinguishers.

The explosion occurred when flammable acetone vapor ignited as an oven was being relit. The blast knocked over three employees, one of whom was burned. The other two sustained trauma injuries. The force of the explosion damaged the oven and blew a large hole in the roof, ripping apart sprinkler piping. Fortunately, the blast only resulted in a few spot fires.

The explosion did $1 million in damage to the building, valued at $30 million, and $9 million to its contents, valued at $20 million.


Sprinklers control fire in mall

CALIFORNIA—Sprinklers confined a fire in a strip mall to the dry cleaning store where it started until firefighters responding to the 5:47 p.m. alarm arrived and extinguished it.

The single-story commercial space, which measured 50 feet (15 meters) by 50 feet (15 meters), was equipped with a wet-pipe sprinkler system and a fire detection system.

The business was closed for the night, but a few staff members were still on-site when the fire broke out. Individuals at the scene, who had tried unsuccessfully to extinguish the fire with a garden hose and portable fire extinguishers, directed responding firefighters to the area of origin. Crews advanced a 2 1/2-inch hose line into the dry cleaners, where they found that the sprinklers had confined the fire to the store.

Investigators found an arc welder near the point of origin and talked to the store’s owner, who reported that he had been using it to repair a piece of equipment when a spark “flew” onto some clothes hanging nearby and ignited them.

The building, which was valued at $2 million, and its contents, valued at $25,000, sustained $110,000 in damage. One worker from the dry cleaning establishment suffered smoke inhalation injuries.