Author(s): Richard Campbell. Published on July 1, 2016.


Smoking-materials fire kills two, injures one

CALIFORNIA—A fire ignited by smoking materials on a wooden patio was fanned by high winds and pushed into the interior of a manufactured home, killing two occupants and injuring a third person.

Firefighters were alerted to the fire at 5:56 p.m. when a passerby called 911. News reports indicated that the structure was fully involved when the first firefighters reached the scene.

The surviving occupant, who experienced smoke inhalation injuries, was able to escape through a window. One of the fatally injured victims was an elderly female who had a mobility disability that impeded her escape. A second occupant died while trying to rescue her. Both victims suffered smoke inhalation and burn injuries.

The fire spread to one additional manufactured home and a vehicle, destroying them.

Investigators determined that smoldering smoking material came into contact with dead leaves or other combustibles in the exterior patio area and that winds helped to create an open flame. When one of the occupants opened the door to investigate, heat and smoke from the fire was pushed by wind through the opening and quickly spread throughout the structure.

The manufactured home where the fire originated was a double-wide modular structure with wood-panel walls and a wood-over-steel frame, with asphalt shingles. The home’s area was 848 square feet (258 square meters). It was not equipped with sprinklers or automatic detection equipment.

Damage from the fire was estimated at $100,000 to the structures and $60,000 to contents. It is unclear if vehicle damage was included in the estimates.

Cooking fire extinguished in apartment complex

OREGON—Cooking materials ignited a fire in a third-floor unit of an apartment complex, but it was extinguished by an automatic sprinkler system before causing widespread damage.

The fire department was called to the scene at 9:42 p.m. by an occupant who had left a pan of cooking oil on the stove and was alerted to the fire by a smoke alarm. The occupant put a lid on the pan to smother the fire, but the fire reignited when the lid fell off while the pan was being moved to the sink, activating the sprinkler.

According to a news report, the fire was out by the time firefighters arrived. No one was injured in the fire, but residents of three units were displaced by water damage caused when tenants left water running in a bathtub while they evacuated the building, allowing the tub to overflow.

The apartment complex contained 84 units and was three stories in height. It was constructed with a wood frame and roof deck and had asphalt shingles. The apartment had a ground-floor area of 1,800 square feet (549 square meters). The units in the complex were protected by smoke detectors and a wet-pipe sprinkler system.

Water damage to the building was estimated at $45,000, with an additional $5,000 in damage to building contents.

Sprinkler system extinguishes garage fire involving charcoal

CALIFORNIA—An automatic detection system dispatched firefighters to an early morning residential fire, but crews arrived to find that a fire that had ignited in the garage had already been extinguished by the home’s sprinkler system.

The residence was a two-story, single-family dwelling. The entire structure was protected by a wet-pipe sprinkler system. The fire originated in a bag of charcoal in a garage on the first floor. The source of ignition was not identified, but the fire activated a local alarm bell that notified the fire department, and one sprinkler head opened in the garage and extinguished the fire.

In a local newspaper report, the fire chief cited the incident as an excellent illustration of how residential sprinkler systems can save lives and property.

Total losses from the fire were estimated at $2,000.

One dies, one injured in fire caused by plug adaptor

LOUISIANA—An elderly man died and an elderly woman was injured in a residential fire blamed on an electrical plug adaptor.

Firefighters responding to a house fire just after 8 p.m. observed heavy smoke conditions upon arrival, and news reports indicated that neighbors were pounding on the front door to alert people inside.

Fire crews immediately forced open the front door and found an elderly female in a recliner in a smoke-filled living room. While one firefighter evacuated the occupant, crews continued to search the premises, locating an elderly male on the hallway floor near a rear bedroom, where the smoke appeared to be originating. The man was transported outside and responders began performing CPR when they determined he had no pulse and was not breathing.

Firefighters returned to the house and extinguished the fire in the bedroom as resuscitation efforts continued outside. CPR was discontinued when the victim was determined to be deceased. The female occupant was transported to a hospital and was expected to survive, according to media accounts.

After finding signs of arcing at the plug end of a surge protector and an adaptor consumed by fire in the bedroom, investigators determined that the fire was caused either by an overloaded or faulty adaptor.

Damage to the house, valued at $40,000, was estimated at $10,000, and damage to the contents was estimated at $5,000.

Mother, daughter perish in house explosion and fire

PENNSYLVANIA—A mother and her adult daughter died from injuries sustained when a hot water heater in their basement exploded as they tried to light it, igniting a fire that spread to the walls of the residence and into the attic.

Two passersby called 911 at 10:21 p.m. after hearing the explosion and finding the two-and-a-half-story house on fire, with the two burn victims and a third resident outside the residence. The passersby learned from the third resident that children were still inside the house.

As crews arrived, they reported that a fire on one side of the house was being fed by propane tanks located outside of the structure, with fire also showing from the second floor and a second-floor balcony. Incident command requested basic and advanced life support to the scene for the burn victims and indicated the need for air medical transport.

Crews established water lines to begin an initial attack to knock down the fire near the propane tanks. Firefighters then proceeded to a side entrance to begin interior fire attack and primary search. Incident reports indicate that incident command subsequently advised that all occupants were outside the house. Firefighters assisted with care of the burn victims as interior crews completed extinguishment of the fire.

The burn victims were taken by ambulance to the location where air medical units had landed, then flown to a burn unit. Three other occupants, two children and an adult, were not injured and sought temporary shelter at a neighboring house. The fire was determined to be under control by 10:45 p.m. and firefighters completed overhaul operations at approximately 12 a.m.

Investigators determined that there was a leak in the propane supply, leading to an explosion when the victims used a lighter to light the hot water heater in the basement. The relief valve on one of the propane tanks then released, starting a fire that spread up the exterior of the house.

One of the burn victims succumbed to her injuries approximately one week after the fire, and the second victim died two weeks after the incident.

The house had a ground floor of 900 square feet (274 square meters) and was constructed of wood and brick. The house, valued at $210,000, suffered losses of $207,000. The contents were valued at $15,000 and experienced losses estimated at $12,000.

Couple dies in house fire started by fireworks

OHIO—An elderly couple died when a firework struck their home and started a fire that eventually consumed the structure.

According to the incident report, a firework hit the roof of the house and fell into a plastic wheelbarrow on the ground below, igniting a fire that spread to a door jamb and then up into the home’s attic. A neighbor called the fire department to report the fire at 1:30 a.m. The fire in the wheelbarrow had been detected approximately four hours earlier, but no action was taken when it was believed to be out.

Firefighters en route to the scene were advised of an entrapment and made a request for additional assistance. First-arriving units reported that flames were showing through the roof and that three-quarters of the home was involved with fire. A walk-around established that fire was heaviest in the attic and a rear corner of the structure.

Two firefighters pulled a hose into the house through a side garage entrance to begin fire attack, while a rescue crew prepared to enter through the front door to conduct a primary search. A neighbor came and informed command that two to three people were likely inside and indicated that the bedroom of a female occupant, who had an unspecified physical impairment, was on the right side of the house. The rescue crew entered the structure with instructions to begin their search at the woman’s bedroom.

Shortly afterward, the attack crew was instructed to evacuate after a partial roof collapse at the rear of the house. The crew was then redirected to attack the roofline from the front of the structure. The rescue crew exited the house with the female victim and turned her over to emergency medical services, then went back inside to search for other occupants.

Following an additional partial roof collapse, all units were ordered to evacuate the structure, but the rescue crew located a male victim in the living room as they exited and transported him outside for medical treatment.

The rescue team was denied permission to reenter the house to continue the search for additional victims due to fire conditions. Family members who had arrived at the scene subsequently indicated that no one else was in the home. The male and female occupants were pronounced dead at the scene by medical personnel as efforts to control the fire continued. The fire was under control and crews began overhaul sometime after 2:30 a.m.

The house was a single-story structure with a ground floor of 1,800 square feet (549 square meters). It was constructed with a wood frame, brick walls, and asphalt shingles. The house was equipped with smoke alarms but no sprinkler system. The house and contents, collectively valued at $340,000, were a total loss.

Newspaper reports indicated that the fire was investigated as a criminal case because it was illegal to set off fireworks in Ohio, although they could be legally purchased if transported out of state within 48 hours. The county prosecutor later decided not to seek an indictment because investigators could not determine who set off the fireworks that caused the fire.

Candle fire in manufactured home kills elderly resident

CALIFORNIA—An early morning fire in a manufactured home claimed the life of an elderly female with a mobility disability, but her adult nephew was able to escape the blaze and call 911 after hearing a smoke alarm at 12:45 a.m.

The fire began while the victim was sleeping and a candle ignited loose combustibles in her bedroom. News reports indicated that flames were shooting out of the structure when firefighters arrived just two minutes after notification. After extinguishing the fire, firefighters found the victim in a bathroom adjacent to her bedroom.

Investigators believe that the victim crawled from her bed into the bathroom in an effort to escape the flames. Firefighters were reported to have provided intensive advanced life support measures after extricating her from the structure, but the victim was pronounced dead at the scene.

The manufactured home had wood and metal walls, wood framing, and a metal roof and had a ground-floor area of 600 square feet (183 square meters).

Damage to the home, valued at $50,000, was estimated at $20,000. Damage to the contents, which were valued at $20,000, was estimated at $5,000.

One dies, one injured when fireworks ignite inside home

FLORIDA—A female resident died and her adult son was injured in a house fire that started when fireworks ignited in a room where they were stored for a Fourth of July celebration.

The fire department was dispatched at 8:36 p.m. and units were on the scene within five minutes. Firefighters reported that the mother and son, along with a third person suffering from an asthma attack, were lying in the driveway upon arrival. The mother was described as having second- and third-degree burns over most of her body, while the son appeared to have burns on one leg and a hand.

Crews attached supply lines and hoses to begin fire attack while the officer in charge applied high-flow oxygen to the mother before turning medical treatment over to EMS crews.

Two firefighters entered the house and advanced a hose line to a rear bedroom, where they quickly extinguished a small fire next to the bed. The firefighters noted significant charring on the mattress and moderate smoke conditions. As they began overhaul, they found two dogs in the bedroom, one of which was alive, and carried them outside.

The mother was transported via medical helicopter to a regional medical center and the son was transported by ambulance to a local hospital. Newspaper reports indicated that the son was discharged from the hospital later in the day, but his mother succumbed to her injuries the following day. The surviving dog was taken to a county animal control unit for care.

Newspaper coverage reported that the fire occurred during a family gathering that included plans to light fireworks after sunset, and that multiple large mortars for lighting and launching fireworks were being stored in the bedroom for that purpose. The reports indicated that one of the mortars somehow ignited while the mother prepared to move it outside, triggering a series of explosions and setting the bedroom on fire. The son, who was outside the house, pulled the mother out of the room through a window.

Investigators sought without success to determine what caused the initial mortar to ignite, according to follow-up media reports. The reports quoted the local police chief as saying that state law did not allow possession of the fireworks in question without a license, emphasizing that they were “definitely dangerous” and should be left to professionals.

No information was available on damage estimates to the house or its contents from the fire and explosions.

Woman, dogs die in house fire

PENNSYLVANIA—A house fire claimed a female victim, and also injured two people and killed two dogs.

Crews responding to a house fire that began just before midnight were able to rescue one occupant from a second-floor window, but a rescue team searching for a second occupant inside the structure was driven back by heavy smoke and high heat. Media accounts reported that a third occupant had earlier jumped from a second-floor window into the arms of neighbors on the ground.

Firefighters were dispatched to the fire at 11:57 p.m. and arrived six minutes later. Crews reported heavy fire showing from the rear of the two-story home, with moderate smoke conditions at the front on the second floor. A second alarm was called due to fire conditions and the report of an entrapment.

Immediately upon arrival, firefighters placed a ground ladder to the second floor where an occupant was hanging from a window. Two firefighters then used the ladder to access the second floor and search for the trapped occupant, but conditions prevented them from searching the rear of the structure.

Firefighters deployed a hose line to begin an exterior attack from the rear of the house where the heaviest fire was showing, while a second line was deployed from the ground ladder into the second floor. A third line was used to attack the fire in the interior on the first floor. Firefighters conducted a search of the second floor after ventilation was completed and found a female victim at the rear of the house. The bodies of two dogs were also found nearby.

Newspaper reports indicated that one of the rescued occupants required stitches for an arm injury. The second occupant was reported to have experienced unspecified injuries.

Ten apparatuses and 16 firefighting personnel responded to the fire. After completing overhaul, one engine with two personnel remained on the scene for security purposes until daylight.

The fire was estimated to have caused $40,000 in damage to the house and $40,000 in contents losses. No estimates were available for the pre-fire value of the house or contents.

Woman dies in house fire started by cooking materials

KANSAS—Firefighters responding to a report of a house fire rescued a female resident from a bedroom near the fire, but she later succumbed to smoke inhalation injuries.

The fire was reported through a 911 call at 11:29 p.m. According to media coverage, the victim’s husband was able to escape through a window in another bedroom and contacted neighbors to report the fire. The reports indicated that the husband told arriving firefighters that his wife was still in the house and that crews immediately made entry, quickly locating her and taking her outside, where she was transported to the hospital. The victim was pronounced dead at the hospital.

Investigators determined that the fire was caused when food that was left cooking in a pan on the stove ignited. There was no indication of the extent of fire spread, but very heavy smoke conditions were reported in the house.

The house had no working smoke alarms or automatic extinguishing equipment. The Red Cross and local fire department conducted an outreach effort in the neighborhood on a Saturday shortly after the fire, distributing smoke alarms and fire safety information, according to a local newspaper.

The house was a single-story structure, with wood framing and deck. It had a ground-floor area of 1,334 square feet (407 square meters).

Damage to the house and contents was estimated at $70,000.

Spontaneous combustion responsible for driveway fire

NEW JERSEY—Firefighters were summoned by a passerby when plastic bags filled with sawdust from newly sanded hardwood floors caught fire in a residential driveway after the materials spontaneously combusted.

Crews arrived minutes after the 2:25 p.m. alarm and extinguished the fire before it could spread. No damages were noted. However, photos from the scene showed other combustible materials in the area, including additional bags of refuse, a portable outdoor restroom, and foliage.

The fire chief indicated in a newspaper account that it was the second such fire in a month, and he urged residents to ensure proper disposal of materials by contractors.

The temperature was 80 degrees at the time of the fire.

Elderly man dies in fire started by smoking materials

OHIO—A man died in a house fire caused by smoking materials.

Firefighters responding to the fire arrived to find flames visible from a second floor, with light smoke showing from the eaves. A neighbor who had called 911 after spotting the fire was waiting outside and advised the first crew on the scene that the home’s resident, an elderly man, was likely to still be inside.

As additional trucks arrived, incident command ordered all hands to mount a rescue effort to locate the man. An engine from a mutual-assistance company arrived and was directed to lay a water supply. Two firefighters took an attack line through the front entrance, followed by a third firefighter acting as fire attack supervisor. The crew quickly searched the first floor, then went to the second floor, where they located the victim in the room of fire origin. They were able to extricate the victim while putting water on the fire.

Firefighters began administering CPR in the front yard when the victim was determined to be in cardiac arrest. The victim was then transported to a medical center.

The fire attack crew reentered the house to finish extinguishment while a second crew placed ladders to the second floor to provide ventilation through the windows. The fire was declared under control at 9:35 p.m. Command was notified that the victim succumbed to his injuries at the hospital shortly after arrival.

Investigators determined that the fire was caused when smoking materials ignited items on the victim’s bed. The house was equipped with battery-operated smoke alarms, but there was no indication of whether they operated.

The two-story house was constructed with a wood frame and walls and asphalt shingles. It had a ground-floor area of 840 square feet (256 square meters). Damage to the house, which was valued at $87,000, was estimated at $9,000. There was an additional $2,000 in damage to the contents, valued at $10,000.

No working smoke alarms cited in deadly house fire

SOUTH CAROLINA—Firefighters arrived just two minutes after being notified of an early morning house fire, but they were unable to save the home’s resident, who suffered fatal smoke inhalation injuries while sleeping in an upstairs bedroom.

The fire department was alerted by a phone call from a passerby at 7:11 a.m., but it was not clear how long the fire had been burning before it was detected. Investigators determined that the victim had failed to turn off a portable fryer perched atop two plastic items before going to bed. As heat built up, the plastic gave way and grease spilled out, igniting a fire. The fire was contained to the first floor, but produced heavy smoke and heat throughout the house.

The house was constructed with a wood frame and walls, with asphalt shingles. It had an area of 1,440 square feet (439 square meters) over two floors. The house was not equipped with smoke alarms, and a fire department official noted that working smoke alarms would likely have saved the victim’s life.

The house, valued at $36,000, was a total loss. The fire also caused $8,000 in damage to the house’s contents, valued at $12,000.

Smoking-materials fire claims life of resident

NEW HAMPSHIRE—An elderly man died as a result of smoke inhalation injuries he suffered in a nighttime fire caused by smoking materials.

The fire department responded following a 911 call from a neighbor, but officials estimated that the fire had begun at least one hour before it was detected at 9:24 p.m. Smoke was showing from the single-family house when firefighters arrived. First-arriving units made an interior entry, where they found the occupant on the floor inside the structure.

Crews removed the occupant, who was treated and transported to the hospital by ambulance personnel. Firefighters returned to the structure to extinguish all fire and perform ventilation operations.

Investigators determined that the fire was caused when smoking materials started a smoldering fire in bedding materials while the victim was in bed. They indicated that the victim attempted to escape and collapsed in the living room, with an unknown amount of time elapsing as the fire continued into a decay state. The fire was detected when the neighbor noticed smoke coming from the eaves.

The house was constructed with a wood frame and walls and asphalt shingles. It consisted of a single story with a ground-floor area of 750 square feet (229 square meters).

Damage to the house, valued at $65,000, was estimated at $40,000, with an additional $20,000 in damage to its contents, valued at $40,000.


Spontaneous combustion blamed for $7.5M school fire

WISCONSIN—An early morning fire in a high school gymnasium caused an estimated $7.5 million in damage and postponed its opening for the new school year by two weeks, according to news reports.

The fire department was alerted to the fire by a security detail worker who had driven to the site after receiving a report of an intrusion alarm activation and smelling smoke outside the gym area. The first units were on the scene five minutes after receiving the alarm at 1:39 a.m. As the incident progressed, incident command requested a full second alarm and a third alarm for engines only.

Crews reported heavy smoke showing from the gymnasium roof on arrival. The crew that was assigned initial attack responsibilities found moderate and heavy smoke in two hallway areas, but backed out of an older gymnasium when they detected no heat inside. They then pulled lead and backup lines to the building’s new gymnasium, where they encountered heavy smoke conditions and found fire to the left of the entrance, which they extinguished from the doorway.

A second crew of firefighters found that bleachers were on fire and returned with hose lines, advancing into the gym to knock down a large amount of fire. They were joined by a crew with an additional hose line to complete the extinguishment. Firefighters also directed water overhead to cool off the ceiling, where there appeared to be truss damage. Crews found no additional fire as they searched inside the building, but did encounter heavy smoke conditions in several areas. Fans were placed in several locations to assist with smoke removal.

While internal operations were underway, a ladder company accessed the gymnasium roof to check for fire extension and prepare for ventilation. After verifying roof stability, the crew removed vent covers to release smoke and cut holes in several areas for additional ventilation and to check for fire extension. No fire was located in roof areas.

A total of 33 firefighters were involved in suppression activities, with another 10 personnel responding for EMS support. There were no injuries reported.

Investigators determined that the fire was caused by the spontaneous combustion of rags soaked with chemicals that were used to finish the gymnasium floor and were improperly stored in unsealed containers. The ignition of the fire was captured by a surveillance camera located inside the gymnasium.

The two-story building was equipped with duct smoke detectors, but the system was not monitored and there were no smoke detectors in the gymnasium. The school was not equipped with an automatic extinguishing system. Property damage to the building, valued at $30 million, was estimated at $7.4 million, with additional losses of $100,000 to building contents, whose value was estimated at $5 million.


Electrical fault blamed for fire

WISCONSIN—A fire at a manufacturing plant caused an estimated $2 million in damage, but the facility was closed at the time of the fire and there were no reported injuries.

The fire department was alerted at 1:30 a.m. on a Sunday when a passerby saw a large amount of smoke coming from the facility’s roof and called 911. First-arriving crews reported heavy dark smoke on the east side of the building. Due to the size of the fire, incident command issued a request for mutual assistance from neighboring communities. A request was also made for a hazardous materials unit to be placed on standby due to concerns about chemicals in the building.

Incident command ordered an aggressive interior attack with a pre-connect hose line from the unburned side of the structure. Firefighters donned air packs and made their way through the structure with the use of a thermal imaging camera. As the crew advanced, a second hose line was deployed as a backup. The attack crew located the seat of the fire in a metal plating area and brought the main fire under control.

Firefighters set up two positive-pressure ventilation fans to clear smoke so crews could conduct an investigation. The fire was caused by an electrical fault in heat-treating equipment, investigators found.

The facility was one story in height with a ground-floor area of 10,000 square feet (3,048 square meters). It was constructed with concrete walls, floor framing, and roof deck, with a built-up roof. The building was not protected by an automatic sprinkler system. It was equipped with hard-wired smoke and heat detectors.

The fire caused an estimated $500,000 in damage to the building, valued at $3 million, and an estimated $1.5 million in damage to contents, valued at $10 million.


Arson fire destroys church and its contents

OHIO—Firefighters responded to an early morning report of a possible structure fire to find heavy smoke emitting from a church roof, with firebrands discharging from the same area. Incident command ordered a second alarm shortly after initial units reached the scene at 6:31 a.m., while also requesting police assistance for traffic control and two additional command officers.

The church property consisted of four adjoining buildings. An assessment of the primary building indicated that it was fully involved from the basement to the roof, but heavy fire conditions prevented assessment of an adjoining structure. Incident command mounted a defensive strategy to contain the fire to the two buildings already involved.

One pumper was positioned at the south side of the structure to provide an aerial attack while crews from a second pumper established a water supply. A third pumper was positioned at a rear corner of the building to prepare master stream operations. Two additional pumpers supported these positions. A captain assigned to safety officer duties rotated crews for the duration of operations.

Aerial operations were initiated from a second location with the arrival of a ladder truck from a mutual assistance company, while crews used hand lines for exposure protection and suppression activities. When conditions permitted, the two exposed structures were investigated for possible fire extension in the roof, which was accomplished through a ventilation cut in the roof after the interior ceiling proved too difficult to open. Minor extension was found and extinguished with a hand line.

The fire was brought under control at 9:25 p.m., approximately three hours after operations began. Newspaper reports indicated that the state fire marshal determined the cause of the fire to be arson.

The church and its contents, collectively valued at $7 million, were a total loss.


Manufacturing facility fire is controlled by sprinklers

ILLINOIS—Sprinklers extinguished a fire at a large manufacturing facility that began when an electrical arc ignited plastic materials in an electrical panel. One worker suffered a leg injury while evacuating the building, but no other injuries were reported.

The fire broke out at 4:15 p.m. when a licensed contractor working in an electrical room opened an electrical panel and an unspecified fault created an arc, igniting material in the panel. Occupants summoned the fire department within one minute after the fire ignited.

According to newspaper reports, the fire chief credited the facility’s sprinkler and suppression system with containing the fire to the mechanical room. Firefighters removed smoke from the building, which the chief said could have contained cyanide gas and carbon monoxide. The reports indicated that a special smoke removal team was summoned for assistance.

The facility was a one-story structure with a ground-floor area of 675 square feet (206 square meters), with brick walls, concrete floor framing, and a flat steel roof covered with tar and gravel. The entire facility was protected by a wet-pipe sprinkler system, with additional protection provided by heat detectors and smoke alarms.

No estimates were available on damages from the fire or the value of the facility and its contents.

RICHARD CAMPBELL is a senior research analyst at NFPA. Top Photograph: Greg Ewing, Captain Specialist, Cal Fire Law Enforcement-Riverside