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


Car fire spreads to garage, house, results in $1 million loss

PENNSYLVANIA—A late-night fire originated in a vehicle parked in a driveway, then spread to an attached garage and then to the house, which was eventually destroyed. Although the homeowner immediately called 911 upon detecting the fire at approximately 11 p.m., it was not clear when it had ignited.

Local media reported that heavy fire was showing from the garage and spreading to the second floor of the residence when fire crews reached the scene. The reports indicated that tankers had to be dispatched to transport water to the house, which was located on a small lane some distance from the main road with no nearby fire hydrants, and that firefighters had to lay several thousand feet of hose in order to shuttle water from the tankers to the fire. Investigators determined that the fire originated in the engine compartment of the resident’s car, but did not indicate a cause. Earlier in the evening, the car had been towed to the residence when it failed to start at the end of the owner’s workday.

The house was equipped with smoke alarms, which sounded when smoke and fire entered the residence. It was not protected by a sprinkler system.

The house was two and a half stories in height and had a ground floor area of 3,200 square feet (297 square meters). It was constructed with a wood frame, walls, and siding and had asphalt shingles.

The house, valued at $750,000, was a total loss, with an additional $250,000 loss in contents.

Cooking fire claims life of elderly resident

PENNSYLVANIA—A late-night house fire started by unattended cooking materials claimed the life of a female resident and damaged two homes.

The fire department was notified of the fire through a 911 call from a male occupant of the house at 11:41 p.m. Police who were on location confirmed that there was a working fire with entrapment at the rear of the structure, leading medical personnel to immediately request additional advanced life safety support.

As first-arriving units reached the scene, they reported heavy fire at the back of the house and initiated an aggressive interior attack. Incident command subsequently called for a second alarm due to heavy fire conditions, with fire showing from all windows on one side of the house. The male occupant, who news reports indicated had tried to rescue the victim, was lying in the middle of the street and was transported to the hospital.

Crews stretched a back-up line to the front of the house and began a primary search of the structure, but were unable to locate the occupant. Crews also had to knock down fire when it extended to an attached twin home whose occupants had evacuated before the fire department’s arrival.

After a secondary house search also proved negative, the body of the victim, who had a mobility disability, was located at the rear of the house by a rapid intervention team. She was pronounced dead at the scene.

Investigators determined that fire began when cooking materials left on the kitchen stove at the rear of the house ignited, spreading to cabinets and then extending to wood framing. The victim, whose mobility impairment confined her to a bed, was in a room that was added on directly behind the kitchen.

The house was constructed with a wood frame, wood and brick walls, and a wood roof with asphalt shingles. It lacked protection by either smoke alarms or automatic sprinklers.

The house, valued at $100,000, and its contents, valued at $50,000, were determined to be a total loss. Damage estimates for the attached house were not available.

Resident dies in fire ignited by smoldering ash from fire pit

WISCONSIN—One man died in an early morning house fire that began when smoldering ash from a recreational fire ring ignited a fire on an outside wood deck, which then spread to a side breezeway and entered the house.

The fire department was alerted to the fire by a police dispatch at 1:09 a.m. Upon arrival, crews reported fire and smoke showing from the front and rear of the single-story structure. Incident command performed a walk-around and crews began to attack the fire from the rear of the house. Incident command was informed that an occupant might be inside the structure as a second crew began attacking the fire with foam from the front of the structure. Because the roof of the house was collapsing under the heavy fire load, crews were ordered to undertake exterior attacks at both sides of the house. Incident command reported that crews were able to quickly extinguish the majority of the fire and ordered both lines to be shut down.

The victim was found on the floor just inside the rear entrance. Both crews were ordered to keep the fire in check and to preserve the area around the victim pending arrival of the medical examiner. A search team entered the house and reported all clear after searching the first floor and basement for any additional occupants.

Investigators determined that a fire was left burning in the fire ring located on the attached deck at the rear of the house. Wind blew ash from the ring onto the deck and ignited a fire, but it was unclear how long the fire had burned before it was detected.

The victim, who had a mobility disability, died of smoke inhalation injuries. A non-working smoke alarm was located in the hallway.

The house was constructed with a wood frame and walls, with asphalt shingles. The house occupied an area of 1,400 square feet (130 square meters). The house, valued at $121,000, suffered $50,000 in losses, while the contents, valued at $65,000, suffered an additional $25,000 in losses.

Gasoline-vapor fire in garage claims victim

PENNSYLVANIA—A man working in his garage suffered fatal burn injuries when a spark from a drill he was using ignited vapor from an open container of gasoline, which then started a fire on a nearby tire and overwhelmed him.

A passerby saw smoke coming out of the garage just after 3 p.m. News reports indicated that the passerby knocked on the door of the house to alert occupants, then tried to extinguish the fire with a garden hose when he was told that the victim was inside the garage.

Investigators indicated that the passerby was able to extinguish the fire, but his efforts were unable to save the victim, who suffered extensive burn injuries. According to news reports, the victim was transported by a Medevac flight to a regional hospital, where he was pronounced dead later that evening.

The fire caused an estimated $1,000 in losses to property contents but there was no damage to the garage or house.

House fire in hoarding conditions kills elderly woman

CALIFORNIA—An elderly woman died of smoke inhalation injuries from a fire that smoldered in her house for an unknown period before a neighbor spotted smoke and called 911.

Firefighters responded to the scene at approximately 9:20 p.m. and reports indicated that they found heavy smoke pouring from the first floor of a two-story residence.

According to firefighters, hoarding conditions were pervasive on both floors of the house. The fire started when the pilot light of a floor heater ignited combustible materials that were stacked directly around and over it in piles three to four feet high.

Media coverage reported that firefighters had difficulty maneuvering inside the structure due to the large volume of stored items, at times having to crawl over piles of material in order to access some areas. They were reportedly able to quickly extinguish the fire once they reached the room where the heater was located.

According to media reports, after the fire was out crews undertook a lengthy search before finding the body of the victim under debris, who was said to have been declared dead by medics at the scene.

The house was constructed with a wood frame and floor joists, wood and plaster walls, with asphalt shingles on wood roof framing. It was equipped with a working battery-operated alarm. The two-story house had a ground floor area of 1,200 square feet (111 square meters).

The building, valued at $500,000, was determined to be a total loss, and there was an additional $30,000 in losses to building contents.

Two die in apartment fire blamed on surge protector

LOUISIANA—An overheated surge protector was blamed for starting an early afternoon apartment fire that took the lives of a husband and wife.

The fire department was notified when a neighbor called 911 at 12:11 p.m. Newspaper reports indicated that fire was rolling from the windows and front door of the small apartment as the first crews reached the scene. Firefighters were reportedly able to control the fire within 15 minutes.

According to reports, an adult son of the victims had made an unsuccessful attempt to rescue them from the blaze before crews arrived. He was transported to the hospital for treatment of smoke inhalation injuries.

Investigators determined that two multi-plug surge protectors were connected to each other and that one became overheated where the second was connected, causing wood molding in the living room to ignite.

The victims died of smoke inhalation injuries and carbon dioxide poisoning. The male victim was bedridden.

The single-story apartment had a concrete block exterior and wood frame interior. The roof was constructed of wood with asphalt shingling. The ground floor area was 418 square feet (39 square meters).

Damage to the house and contents, valued at $150,000, was estimated at $95,000.

Two residents die in house fire; four others escape

VIRGINIA—Firefighters responded to an early morning house fire after one of the occupants was awakened by the fire and called 911.

When crews arrived on the scene, they indicated that the entire two-story structure was involved with fire. The fire had begun at the front of the house on the ground floor, then traveled up the stairway to the second floor and out the upstairs windows.

The fire department reported that one of the occupants jumped out a second-floor window when he encountered fire in the stairwell, then placed a ladder at the rear window so that others could escape. He reentered the house when he realized that his grandmother was still inside. Both the grandson and grandmother perished in the blaze.

Twelve fire companies ultimately responded to the scene. Investigators determined that the fire had an electrical origin, but details of the ignition sequence were not available.

The house had timber floor framing, wood walls and frame, and a metal roof on a wood frame. The ground floor area was 3,200 square feet (297 square meters). The house was not equipped with smoke alarms.

The house and contents, valued at $300,000, were a total loss.

Planned outdoor burn spreads to home, kills occupant

NEBRASKA—An early morning house fire in a rural location burned for an estimated two to three hours before it was detected by a passerby, who notified the fire department at 4:40 a.m. The fire claimed the life of the home’s sole resident, who was believed to be sleeping when the fire broke out.

Crews reported that the roof of the house had collapsed into the basement and only one wall was still standing by the time they reached the scene. Three fire departments and 25 firefighters responded to the fire, and 4,000 gallons of water were needed to complete extinguishment.

After the fire had been extinguished, crews searched for two hours before locating the body of the male victim in the remains of the house. The victim died as a result of smoke inhalation and burn injuries.

Investigators determined that hot ash from the burn of a tree stump 50 feet to the west of the house was spread by wind across the yard and into the attic of the house, igniting a fire that then extended throughout the attic and into the living area below.

The house was a single-story wood structure with a ground floor area of 1,200 square feet (111 square meters). It was built in balloon-frame construction style, with an asphalt-shingled roof cover. The house and its contents, collectively valued at $50,000, were a total loss.

Two perish in apartment fire started by smoking materials

OREGON—Fire officials blamed smoking materials for an early morning apartment fire that claimed the lives of two residents.

The apartment was located in a two-story, 30-unit apartment building. The fire department reported receiving several phone calls after a passerby first detected the fire at 12:30 a.m. and called 911.

Newspaper accounts indicated that heavy smoke in the building’s hallway trapped many people in their apartments and that the fire department used ladders to rescue a number of residents through apartment windows. Crews reportedly extinguished the fire in about half an hour and were able to confine it to the apartment in which it originated, with minor smoke damage in adjoining units.

Investigators determined that the fire began in a living area on the apartment’s lower level, where smoking materials ignited a cushion, setting fire to the couch and then spreading through the apartment. The fire department reported that smoke alarms had been removed by the apartment’s residents.

The building was constructed with a wood frame and roof deck and sheet rock walls. The apartment had a ground floor area of 571 square feet (53 square meters).

The apartment and its contents, valued at $80,000, were a total loss.

Resident dies when gas explosion sets fire to camper

KENTUCKY—Firefighters responding to an 8:50 a.m. report of a trailer park fire with possible entrapment arrived to find a pull-behind camper fully involved with flames. Crews initiated a rapid attack with preconnected hose lines on both sides of the camper and were able to quickly extinguish the fire.

Firefighters evacuated the sole male occupant of the trailer, who received medical assistance from an ambulance crew and was transported to the hospital with burn injuries covering 60 percent of his body, according to newspaper reports. Crews attempted to salvage as much of the trailer’s contents as possible and secured the scene for safety.

Investigators determined that the fire was caused when an uncapped propane gas line allowed the trailer to fill with gas when the victim turned the tank on, resulting in an explosion when he attempted to light a cigarette. The line had been left uncapped after the victim replaced the original propane refrigerator with an electric appliance.

The victim succumbed to burn injuries in the hospital one day after the explosion.

The camper was described as a wood-frame pull-type camper. Damage was estimated at $10,000.

Smoking materials blamed for deadly apartment fire

TENNESSEE—Firefighters were called to a three-story apartment complex in the early morning hours when a resident smelled smoke and determined it was coming from somewhere outside her unit.

As crews arrived on the scene, they reported no visible signs of fire. They were met in the parking lot by the caller, who stated that she had smelled smoke and seen a light haze in her apartment. Crews went to her unit and used a thermal imaging camera to look for signs of heat, then searched for signs of fire on the lower level when a resident reported earlier hearing a smoke alarm sounding from below. They returned upstairs to begin searching apartments after residents on the bottom level reported an odor coming through their vents.

While checking units on the upper level, crews were met with heavy smoke conditions when they forced the door of the unit of fire origin, but the fire was almost completely extinguished. During a primary search of the unit, the victim was found unresponsive in a bedroom and transported outside, where crews began administering CPR and transported him to the hospital. The victim was later pronounced dead from smoke inhalation injuries.

Crews pulled the ceiling and looked for fire extension and used fans to remove smoke from the building before performing overhaul.

Investigators determined that the fire began when smoking materials ignited a couch in the living room and then spread to a wall and additional furniture.

Units in the apartment complex contained smoke alarms, and the building was equipped with manual pull stations, strobes, and horns. The strobes and horns did not activate, however. The facility was not equipped with an automatic sprinkler system.

The unit where the fire originated occupied an area of 715 square feet (66 square meters). The apartment complex had a ground floor area of 12,000 square feet (1,115 square meters). It was constructed with a wood frame and walls, with mansard-style wood roof framing.

Damage to the building, valued at $1 million, was estimated at $250,000. There was an additional $125,000 in damage to building contents, whose value was estimated at $375,000.

Resident dies when gas heater ignites sofa bed

MONTANA—The sole occupant of a basement apartment died in an early morning fire that started when a gas heater ignited a sofa bed after thermostats activated during the night as temperatures fell.

The apartment was one of four units in a two-story apartment building. The fire department was notified of the fire at 3:45 a.m. following a 911 call by an upstairs tenant who awoke, smelled smoke, then encountered thick smoke and heat after opening a door to the basement.

Firefighters arrived on the scene to find heavy fire extending from the door and windows of the basement apartment. Crews were able to quickly knock down the fire from the exterior of the building, then gained access to the apartment by reaching inside to unlock the entry door, which was located in the alley. Aware that the apartment might be occupied, two firefighters equipped with a handline, a halligan tool, and a thermal imaging camera entered the apartment to perform a search and rescue and extinguish any remaining fire.

Despite heavy smoke conditions, the team was able to locate and open a door at the rear of the structure to assist with ventilation, while setting up a positive-pressure fan at another door to further clear smoke from the unit. Firefighters located the occupant in a laundry room and dragged him out of the open rear door, then started administering CPR until an ambulance crew was able to assume patient care. The occupant was transported to the hospital, where he succumbed to smoke inhalation injuries later that day.

Firefighters checked for fire extension and searched other areas of the building before undertaking overhaul operations, leaving one engine crew on location overnight to maintain control of the scene.

Investigators determined that a gas heater in the living room activated during the night and ignited a sofa sleeper with which it was in direct contact. The fire then extended to the rest of the living room. Disabled smoke alarms were found on the floor of the laundry room. The building was not protected by an automatic sprinkler system.

The apartment building was two stories in height, with a ground floor area of 2,500 square feet (232 square meters). It was constructed with a wood frame and wood deck, with brick walls and asphalt shingles. No information was available on the size of the apartment.

The building was valued at $125,000 and had $35,000 in damages, while the contents, with an estimated value of $35,000, suffered $10,000 in damage.


Sprinkler extinguishes dust-explosion fire at grain mill

UTAH—Employees and an alarm monitoring company notified the fire department after a dust explosion ignited a fire in equipment on the ninth floor of a grain mill, but the facility’s fire suppression system had largely extinguished the fire by the time crews reached the scene.

Investigators believe static electricity caused dust to ignite inside a flour hopper at approximately 4:20 p.m., burning the equipment’s filters and the flour inside and activating the sprinkler system inside the hopper. Firefighters used handlines to extinguish hot spots on the upper floor. The fire was contained to a single hopper.

Newspaper reports indicated that all employees were evacuated from the facility without injury and that the fire was declared out at 5:30 p.m.

The building, standing 13 stories high, was constructed of heavy timber and reinforced concrete, with a concrete roof deck on a steel and wood frame. It was protected by a wet pipe sprinkler system.

No estimates were available on damage from the fire.


Electrical fire damages commercial building

MAINE—An early evening electrical fire forced the occupants of a multi-tenant commercial building to evacuate the structure, while causing damage estimated at over $2 million.

The fire department was notified by a central station monitoring company after the fire was detected by smoke detectors at 7 p.m. Newspaper reports indicated that firefighters from six communities were called in to battle the fire. Three firefighters were taken to the hospital after they experienced heat exhaustion while battling the blaze, but none of the building occupants experienced injury.

Multiple commercial tenants were housed in the three-story structure, occupying 24,330 square feet (2,260 square meters) of space. Investigators indicated that one section of the building had complete sprinkler coverage, a second had partial coverage, and a third section had no sprinkler protection.

The fire originated in a void space above one of the units on the first floor that lacked sprinkler coverage. Although smoke detectors activated and alerted occupants, the fire had grown too large to be extinguished by sprinklers by the time it spread to those sections of the building with sprinkler protection.

Investigators identified the cause of the fire as electrical arcing from an undetermined electrical malfunction in a ceiling area.

The building was constructed with a wood frame and walls. One section of the roof had a rubber cover and the rest was covered with asphalt shingles.

The building was valued at just over $1.5 million and its contents at $750,000. Both suffered total losses.

Blaze in restaurant fireplace chase controlled by sprinklers

MINNESOTA—Customers and employees were forced to evacuate a restaurant after fire broke out in a ceiling area just after 2 p.m, but no injuries were reported and sprinklers were able to control the fire until firefighters arrived and completed extinguishment.

Firefighters were summoned to the scene at 2:15 p.m. following a call to 911 by the restaurant manager. Upon arrival, crews found smoke emitting from the front door and fire rolling across the ceiling inside the restaurant near a fireplace and chimney chase. The sprinkler system was activated and making progress extinguishing the fire, but firefighters pulled a hose into the structure and extinguished the remaining fire, then assisted with ventilation.

In interviews with investigators, the restaurant manager indicated that employees had called him over to the fireplace area when employees noticed discolored water coming through ceiling tiles and that he could see flames in the ceiling after one of the tiles fell, at which point he ordered everyone out of the building.

The gas fireplace was located in the center of the restaurant dining area. Investigators determined that the fire originated in the fireplace chase and rolled up to the ceiling, then spread across the ceiling until it began to be controlled by four activated sprinkler heads.

The investigation determined that wood framing around the chimney chase ignited as a result of heat and long-term pyrolysis.

The building, valued at $3,300,800, suffered $100,000 in damage, with an additional $100,000 in damage to building contents. Most of the damage was the result of water damage.

Electrical failure blamed for nearly $1 million airport fire

WASHINGTON—Firefighters alerted to a fire at an air field arrived within five minutes to find a hangar on fire, with sounds of explosions coming from inside.

Crews initially positioned their vehicles some 150 feet from the structure and began to pull a hose, but had to relocate due to the size of the fire, estimated to involve approximately 300 feet of the large hangar complex. Soon after, a second alarm was called and incident command outlined a defensive strategy that sought to prevent the fire from spreading to a second hangar and other buildings located to the south.

Incident command established a command post at the east end of the hangar complex for the best view of the fire. Two engine companies began attacking the fire from the south, utilizing a hydrant line, while two additional engine companies began operating to the north. One newly arriving crew was assigned to protect exposures on the west side of the hangar and another to assist companies working at the north location.

Newspaper coverage of the fire reported that explosions resulting from the ignition of high-octane fuel in airplanes blew out hangar doors and part of a roof and that flames reached 40 to 50 feet high. Reports indicated that crews had the fire under control within approximately one hour, but the scene wasn’t cleared until almost 2 a.m. One engine crew returned in the daylight to extinguish hot spots.

The hangar complex, described in newspapers as containing multiple hangar bays separated by simple partitions, was 300 feet long (91 meters) and 40 feet wide (12 meters). The hangar was reportedly constructed in the 1950s or 1960s, and bays were not equipped with sprinkler systems. Hangar bays at the airport, a general aviation facility, were leased to private owners of small fixed-wing planes.

According to a newspaper report that appeared two weeks after the fire, investigators determined that the fire was caused by an electrical failure that started in a power strip or an electrical outlet that the strip was plugged into, both of which were mounted on a heavy timber support post.

Reports indicated that eight aircraft and four automobiles were destroyed in the fire. Damage was estimated at $922,000, but no additional details on the incident were available.


Sprinklers control dorm fire ignited by a candle

MISSISSIPPI—Firefighters were dispatched to a university dormitory at 8 p.m. after a fire broke out in a third-floor unit, activating an automatic detection system and a monitored sprinkler system. On arrival, crews found that the sprinkler system had successfully contained the fire to a sofa, which had been ignited by a nearby candle.

University officials indicated in news reports that housing policy prohibited residents from burning candles in residence hall rooms. Reports also indicated that the fire was small but produced considerable smoke.

Nearly 200 students were reportedly displaced by the fire and were temporarily relocated to open units on campus or nearby hotels.

The dormitory was four stories in height and had a ground floor area of 32,114 square feet (2,983 square meters). The building was constructed with wood framing and walls and a metal roof. A wet pipe sprinkler system provided coverage for the entire structure.

The structure experienced smoke and water damage, but no estimates were available on the extent of losses.


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 as a result of the event.

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 (63 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.


$7 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.

RICHARD CAMPBELL is a senior research analyst at NFPA. Top Photograph: Tom Kelly IV