Author(s): Richard Campbell. Published on July 1, 2017.



Man dies in house fire after electric meter is pulled from house

An elderly man died in a fire that began when a truck pulled an electric meter off the side of his house after snagging a powerline on the street outside, causing an electrical arc that ignited an exterior wall. Wind then drove the fire into the house, which eventually resulted in the structure being fully involved.

The fire department was summoned to the scene at 6 p.m. following a phone call from a neighbor. The first crews to reach the scene reported that the house was fully involved upon their arrival. Firefighters pulled preconnected handlines from three trucks and began to attack the fire. They were subsequently joined by a crew of volunteer firefighters who arrived to provide additional assistance with extinguishment.

After the flames were knocked down, crews conducted a search of the structure and found the body of a male resident near the back entrance. Firefighters anticipated that the structure might collapse and moved the body outside. A justice of the peace was summoned for pronouncement before the body was transported to the medical examiner’s office. Investigators indicated that the victim had a mobility disability that may have hindered his ability to escape.

Due to the extent of the damage, investigators were unable to determine if the house was equipped with smoke alarms.

The house was a two-story structure with a ground-floor area of 1,375 square feet (128 square meters). The house was constructed with a concrete floor frame, wood frame and walls, a roof deck of metal over composite shingles, and an asphalt shingle roof cover.

The house and contents, collectively valued at $100,000, were a total loss.


Sprinkler controls fire and limits damage in large apartment building

Firefighters were dispatched in the early morning hours to an apartment complex after an automatic sprinkler system activated and sent notification to a central station alarm.

Crews reported no signs of fire as they reached the scene at 2:28 a.m., just two minutes after receiving the alarm. Residents outside the building told firefighters that the fire was in a first floor unit and that the occupant was believed to still be inside.

Crews proceeded to the apartment, where they found an open door and a large amount of smoke inside the unit, with flames visible in a rear bedroom. Incident command then informed the rescue team that the resident had been located outside and that it was now an offensive fire attack.

A team of three firefighters entered the apartment to attack the fire and found an activated sprinkler and heavy smoke in the back bedroom, but no visible fire. An oxygen regulator, mattress, and carpeting inside the bedroom were smoldering and firefighters used a water cannon to spray down the inside of the mattress and complete extinguishment.

Investigators determined that the fire started when the power cord from an oxygen regulator was compromised by a bedpost between the baseboard and carpet, causing the power cord to overheat, arc, and ignite the carpet. The fire then moved to a mattress and to the oxygen regulator. A sprinkler in the bedroom opened once the fire intensified, controlling the fire until firefighters arrived to complete extinguishment.

The apartment complex was five stories high and included 50 units, occupying a ground-floor area of 13,176 square feet (1,224 square meters). The building was protected by an automatic wet-pipe sprinkler system, with sprinkler coverage in the sleeping and kitchen areas of each unit.

The building was valued at $1.1 million. The fire caused an estimated $1,000 in damage to the structure and $5,000 in damage to the unit’s contents.

The building was constructed with concrete walls and a brick exterior, but other building construction details were unavailable.


Early morning fire in manufactured home claims woman’s life

More than two dozen firefighters responded to a manufactured home fire after a caller reported that someone was still inside the structure, but personnel were unable to save the occupant, a female who succumbed to fatal burn and smoke inhalation injuries.

Firefighters were dispatched to the scene following a 911 just after 2 a.m. by one of the home’s occupants. As initial crews made their way to the scene, they were notified by dispatch that flames were showing from the windows of the entire back half of the home and that one of the residents had not been able to escape, leading the battalion chief to call a second alarm.

Upon arrival, crews reported heavy flames showing from one side of the structure and were told by bystanders that one of the residents was believed to be inside. Several residents had managed to successfully escape, according to newspaper accounts.

One engine crew began a transitional attack on the fire through a door and window where the fire was concentrated and a second engine crew entered the structure and began a primary search. As additional units arrived, a second hose was pulled as a backup line and an additional rescue team entered the structure to assist with the primary search. Medical crews set up standby operations. Crews from a third engine company were assigned rapid intervention team duties.

Search and rescue crews reported that smoke was at floor level as they entered the structure, but conditions began to clear after they broke a window to assist with ventilation. After searching the kitchen, living room, and two bedrooms at one end of the structure without success, the teams continued to search at the home’s opposite end, making separate searches of a third bedroom. Crews located the victim on the floor near the entrance to an adjacent bathroom.

Crews exited the structure and reported that most of the fire was extinguished. After replacing oxygen bottles, one of the teams reentered the home to perform a secondary search and found no other occupants.

Investigators determined that the fire originated in a bedroom at the opposite end of the structure from where the victim was found, but were unable to determine the cause. Although the home was equipped with interconnected smoke alarms, the alarm had been removed from the bedroom where the fire originated.

The manufactured home was constructed with a wood frame and metal exterior and roof. The one-story structure occupied a ground-floor area of 1,200 square feet (111 square meters).

The fire caused an estimated $45,000 in damage to the structure, valued at $60,000, and $10,000 in damage to its contents, with a value of $15,000.


Man dies in fire caused by portable gas generator

Firefighters dispatched to a residential fire at 11:50 a.m. arrived to find smoke and flames showing from the second floor of a two-story apartment building and an elderly male occupant trapped on a rear balcony.

While crews pulled a hose through the front entrance of the building to the second floor for fire attack, firefighters placed two ladders at the rear of the building to assist with rescue. In the hallway outside the occupant’s apartment, firefighters reported heavy black smoke pouring from an open front door, with visible flames inside and the occupant calling for help from the porch.

Crews were able to quickly extinguish the main body of fire in the area of a living room sofa. They then positioned a fan to ventilate the apartment before removing the occupant, who had a mobility disability, down the stairway. Crew members who had laddered the rear porch assisted with evacuating the occupant, who was supplied with an SCBA mask before being evacuated. Medical personnel waiting at the bottom of the stairs assumed care of the occupant and transported him to a trauma center.

The occupant later succumbed to burn injuries at the hospital.

Investigators determined that the fire originated in a portable gas generator in the living room. The victim reported to a trauma nurse at the hospital that he was having problems with the generator and was burned while trying to move it to the balcony, becoming trapped on the balcony when fire spread to common combustibles in the living room. No additional information was available on the cause of the fire.

The fire department reported that police were first to reach the scene and that one officer suffered smoke inhalation injuries when he tried to extinguish the fire with a dry chemical fire extinguisher. A second police officer located a garden hose and used it in an effort to reduce the heat and fire exposure of the trapped occupant. The injured officer was later treated by medical crews and transported to the hospital.

The victim’s apartment was 875 square feet (81 square meters) in size and part of a four-unit apartment building. The exterior walls were constructed of concrete block and stucco and interior walls were constructed with wood studs covered by drywall.

No information was available on the presence of smoke alarms or the number of units in the building.

Investigators indicated that the fire was confined to the living room. The fire caused an estimated $20,000 in damage to the structure and $6,000 in damage to apartment contents.


Elderly woman dies of injuries sustained in cooking fire

Firefighters were dispatched to a residential fire at 8:38 a.m. following a phone call from an occupant who reported that her clothing was on fire and that she was unable to evacuate her home.

Crews responding to the scene reported that a fire originating in the kitchen was already out upon their arrival. They found the occupant, an elderly female, in the living room with a number of severe burn injuries. Crews used bed coverings to help lift the occupant and carry her from the house.

Once outside, the occupant was placed in the driveway for immediate evaluation and treatment by fire department personnel before she was transported by ambulance to the hospital. The occupant told fire department personnel prior to being evacuated that she had been trying to make coffee in the kitchen when flame from the gas range ignited her clothes.

A fire department representative spoke with the victim’s daughter at the hospital, where the victim was awaiting transfer to the burn unit. The victim later succumbed to her injuries at the hospital.


Fire claims resident after falling asleep while cooking

A male occupant suffered fatal burn and smoke inhalation injuries in an afternoon fire that started in his kitchen after he fell asleep while food cooked on his stove.

Firefighters were called to the scene at 12:36 p.m. by landscapers working nearby who spotted the fire and called 911. First-arriving crews observed fire in the center unit of a single-story, three-unit apartment building. A police officer who was already on the scene reported that all occupants were out of the building. Crews reported that a resident of the middle apartment was lying in the front yard and was conscious and somewhat alert, but had serious burns to a large portion of his body.

Medical crews treated the injured resident and transported him to the hospital while firefighters advanced a hose line into the front door and began to attack the fire. Crews reported that smoke was issuing from the eaves and a ridge vent. Incident command requested that all off-duty personnel report to the scene.

Police officers on the scene helped firefighters lay a hose line to a hydrant located approximately 150 feet away. Crews from a pumper arrived and entered the apartment to assist with extinguishment. An engine crew with additional personnel subsequently reached the scene. Firefighters were able to contain the fire to the kitchen area and brought it under control in approximately 40 minutes. Crews opened walls and ceilings to check for extension and began overhaul.

The injured resident was able to tell police officers that he had put food on the stove to cook before falling asleep on his couch. After being wakened by fire, the resident attempted to put it out, but fell to the floor and began calling for help after suffering his injuries. Two landscapers mowing the lawn outside came to his aid and were able to evacuate him despite being hindered by smoke and fire coming out of the door. One of the landscapers suffered unspecified injuries in the rescue effort.

The fire department indicated that the resident succumbed to his injuries five days after the fire.

Investigators reported that the apartment was equipped with a single battery-operated smoke alarm located in the bedroom hallway, but it was not operational due to a dead battery.

The apartment building was a single-story structure with a ground-floor area of 2,788 square feet (259 square meters). It was a wood construction with an asphalt shingle roof covering. The building, valued at $100,000, suffered an estimated $30,000 in damages. Contents valued at $15,000 were a total loss.


Child dies in fire started by fire play

A young girl was killed by a blaze that began as a result of another child playing with fire.

Firefighters dispatched to a mid-morning fire in a multi-family residence were advised on route that there were likely to be occupants still inside the structure. Heavy smoke was reported with fire showing from side windows when units reached the scene at 9:29 a.m., approximately four minutes after notification. Police officers who were first to arrive informed crews that an occupant had reported that her daughter was in the basement, then changed the likely location to a first-floor bedroom.

An attack and rescue team entered the residence through the front door, with instructions to search a bedroom to the left, while a second team was instructed to take out the bedroom window and assist with the search from the exterior. A third team pulled a hoseline to the basement, but found it clear of fire and occupants.

Using a thermal imaging camera, the crewmembers outside the house were able to spot a child’s foot in one corner of the room and directed the interior team to the victim’s location. The unconscious victim was evacuated through the window, placed on a cot, and transferred to a waiting ambulance for transport to the hospital.

After the victim was evacuated, crews extinguished the fire on the first floor and pulled a hose to the second floor to limit fire spread, opening walls above the seat of the fire in order to check for extension.

Newspapers reported that the victim was pronounced dead at the hospital.

Investigators learned that the fire started when another minor was playing with fire in the bedroom, which the victim reported to her mother. The mother unsuccessfully attempted to douse the fire with pitchers of water, and grabbed the children to evacuate as the fire grew. After exiting, the mother realized her daughter was not with her and tried to reenter the structure, but was driven back by fire conditions.

The fire caused $50,000 in damage to the house, which was valued at $150,000, and an estimated $15,000 to its contents. The house was a two-story frame construction and was not equipped with smoke alarms.


One dies, six injured by unattended cooking fire

Cooking oil that was left unattended on a kitchen stove was blamed for a fire that claimed the life of one apartment resident and injured six others.

According to news reports, smoke was billowing from the apartment when crews first reached the scene seven minutes after being dispatched at 7:52 p.m. The apartment was located on the first floor of a two-story apartment building that included four other units, and firefighters reported that four residents had jumped from apartments on the second floor to escape the fire.

The fire originated in the kitchen of an apartment on the first floor. Crews entering the building to attack the fire and undertake search and rescue operations found a juvenile on a floor in the hallway and rescued three other occupants. All four occupants were transported to the hospital.

News accounts reported that firefighters were able to bring the fire under control in 20 minutes.

Investigators determined that the fire originated in a pot of cooking oil that was on a rear burner of a gas-fired stove top. The liquid boiled over onto the stove top, creating a running spill fire condition, with fire extending via the spill to combustible items scattered on the kitchen floor.

Fire department reports indicated that three of the residents who jumped from the second floor experienced moderate strain or sprain injuries to their lower extremities. Two occupants of the first-floor unit, one of whom reentered the apartment in a rescue effort, suffered minor smoke inhalation injuries, while a third suffered burn and smoke inhalation injuries that were described as severe. The fatally injured victim succumbed to smoke inhalation injuries.

Investigators reported that although the apartment was equipped with hard-wired smoke alarms with battery backup, they failed to operate due to a shut-off or disconnection of the hardwire.

Damage to the building, a brick structure valued at $400,000, was estimated at $10,000. There was an additional $5,000 in damage to the apartment’s contents.


Dropped cigarette ignites fatal apartment fire

A fire that claimed the life of an elderly woman and destroyed a multi-family apartment building began when the victim dropped a lit cigarette onto an upholstered sofa in proximity to a home oxygen delivery system.

The fire department was alerted to the fire by a 911 call at 1:02 a.m. and crews reached the scene four minutes later. Upon arrival, crews reported heavy smoke conditions and occupants in need of rescue and evacuation from the building, a three-story, multi-unit structure. Crews entered the building and found a resident on the third-floor landing with burns to her body. She was evacuated and provided with advanced life support before being transported to a burn center.

Crews advanced handlines to the third floor to begin attacking the fire in the apartment of origin. When the fire extended to the attic and began to spread laterally, incident command requested a second alarm and gave an order to evacuate the entire building. Four ladder pipes and one monitor pipe were placed in service for fire attack.

As the fire progressed, incident command established a collapse zone and issued a special request for two more engines. Two trucks responded from a mutual aid company to provide additional assistance.

Once the fire was under control, incident command initiated rehab operations. One firefighter was transported to a local burn center with burn and smoke inhalation injuries.

Following the fire, investigators spoke with a neighbor who reported going to the victim’s apartment after hearing her smoke alarm sound and finding her in a chair, covered in flames. The neighbor reported that he extinguished as much of the fire on the victim and nearby oxygen equipment as he could before removing her from the apartment and calling 911.

The victim told firefighters that she dropped a cigarette and was immediately engulfed by fire. She succumbed to burn and inhalation injuries in the hospital.

The building was a brick construction with a ground-floor area of 10,000 square feet (929 square meters).

The building and its contents, with a collective value estimated at $500,000, were a total loss.


Outdoor burn pile fire spreads to house and claims life of resident

An early morning house fire claimed the life of a male resident and caused injuries to another person.

Transcripts of calls reporting the fire described a chaotic scene, with explosions, a downed power line, trees on fire, and a large fire that threatened other residences. Callers indicated that the occupant of the burning structure was likely to have been home.

Firefighters reached the scene 10 minutes after the 2:46 a.m. dispatch and reported that the residence was fully involved with fire. Due to the downed power line and the explosion potential of liquefied petroleum gas cylinders at nearby residences, crews maintained a safe defensive posture while attacking the fire from three sides, seeking to control the fire’s further spread and to protect other exposures.

Crews deployed two hoses in their initial attack until a water tender reached the scene and allowed them to deploy an additional line for extinguishment. Maintaining their defensive attack, crews brought the fire under control approximately 45 minutes after arrival. Crews began conducting overhaul operations and requested medical assistance for a female who suffered minor burn injuries.

Shortly after 5 a.m., crews confirmed that they had found the body of the male resident.

Newspaper reports indicated that the injured female and another person wspread to the victim’s residence. Nearby residents who heard an explosion and saw the fire were reportedly unable to enter the home due to the fire’s intensity.

The residence was described as a one- or two-family home, but no information was available on its dimensions or damage estimates. Photographs of the fire scene indicated that the house was a total loss.


Cigarette, home oxygen, and hoarding conditions result in fatal fire

Firefighters were dispatched to a residential structure fire following a 911 call by an occupant just after 10 p.m. While on route, crews were alerted that two occupants inside the residence were incapable of self-rescue. A request was made for mutual aid assistance and for an ambulance to report to the scene.

Upon arrival, crews reported heavy smoke showing from the second floor of a two-story duplex. Crews entered the house with a hose line and located a male resident who had a mobility disability on the first floor. While two police officers assumed responsibility for extricating the resident, the engine crew stretched a charged hose up the stairs to the second floor. A second engine company arrived to assist with extinguishment, search, and ventilation.

Inside the house, crews reported zero visibility, with black smoke banked down to floor level and hot but tenable temperatures. Crews were additionally hindered by hoarding conditions inside the home. Using a thermal imaging camera, crews located and knocked down a fire in the second-floor bedroom, then found a female occupant in the room and carried her down the stairs and out the front door.

Crews began performing CPR on the female victim until a medical crew arrived to assume patient care. Medics were unable to resuscitate the victim, who succumbed to smoke inhalation injuries. A second ambulance arrived to transport the male resident to the hospital with non–life threatening injuries.

Crews inside the residence continued to search the second floor while performing horizontal ventilation and using a handline to extinguish remaining hotspots. After completing extinguishment, crews performed minimal overhaul in order to preserve the scene for investigators.

Investigators determined that the fire began on the second floor when the female resident ignited her clothing with a lit cigarette while using oxygen. Notification of the fire department was delayed while the male resident, who had a mobility disability and was on the first floor, attempted to investigate.

The residence had a ground-floor area of 988 square feet (92 square meters). The house was constructed with wood framing, walls, and roof deck, with asphalt shingles.

The house was equipped with smoke alarms on the first floor and basement, but a hardwired smoke alarm had been removed from a second-floor hallway. The house did not have an automatic extinguishing system.

The fire caused $9,000 in damage to the house, valued at $91,000, and $11,000 in damage to its contents, with an estimated value of $46,000.


Resident dies in house fire started by candle

An elderly woman with a mobility impairment died from smoke inhalation injuries sustained in a house fire that started when a candle ignited materials in the basement. Firefighters were summoned to the scene at 4:15 a.m. after the fire was detected by the victim’s son, who also resided in the home.

Reports indicated that first-arriving crews encountered heavy smoke conditions as they arrived at the scene and that they found the victim in a back bedroom, already deceased.

According to newspaper reports, the victim’s son and a neighbor attempted to enter the house through a side door but were driven back by intense smoke conditions. The reports indicated that the son was taken to the hospital and later released.

Investigators determined that a candle that was left burning in the basement ignited nearby combustibles, with the fire spreading through the basement and then up the stairs into the first floor.

A battery-operated smoke alarm inside the house was determined to be inoperable.

The single-story house was constructed with a wood frame and brick walls and had a wood roof deck covered with asphalt shingles. The structure occupied a ground-floor area of 1,073 square feet (100 square meters).



Fire results in large losses at vehicle storage facility

A nighttime fire at a vehicle storage facility destroyed several vehicles and caused over $2 million in damage before it was extinguished by firefighters from two departments.

Firefighters were dispatched to a report of a structure fire at 7:45 p.m. and reported heavy black smoke and the sound of explosions as they neared the scene.

Upon arrival, crews reported that multiple recreational vehicles were fully involved beneath a large carport structure. Crews made a visual inspection of the perimeter of the site and set up for a defensive attack. Incident command issued a call for additional units, as well as for police assistance for control of the perimeter and evacuation of adjacent businesses.

Four engine companies were assigned with attacking the fire, with another engine company and an aerial tower crew assigned to exposure protection before being transitioned to assist with fire attack. Firefighters set up multiple heavy lines and aggressively attacked burning vehicles that were stored underneath a metal carport. News reports indicated that the fire was brought under control at 8:29 p.m. The last units cleared the scene at 2:37 a.m.

The cause of the fire had not been determined at the time the fire department filed its incident report. No information was available on the presence of fire protection systems at the storage facility.

Firefighters estimated that 12 vehicles were in storage at the time of the fire, including large motor homes, boats, and passenger vehicles. The structure, valued at $500,000, was a total loss. Damage to vehicles was estimated at $2 million.

Mixed Use


Cigarette deposited in plastic bucket blamed for fatal building fire

One resident was killed in a late-night fire that started when cigarettes ignited a plastic bucket in which they had been deposited on a front porch, and the resulting fire spread into the structure through windows.

Firefighters were dispatched to the fire at 11:29 p.m. following a phone call to 911. The fire broke out in a three-story mixed-use property that included a commercial property on the first floor and residential apartments on the second and third floors.

Newspapers reported that the building was fully engulfed when firefighters arrived minutes after the initial call to 911. Crews reportedly rescued a number of building occupants and fought the fire into the early morning hours. A female victim succumbed to smoke inhalation injuries, but no additional information was available on the circumstances of her death.

The house was a wood structure with a ground-floor area of 2,400 square feet (223 square meters). The structure was not equipped with an automatic sprinkler system and the possible presence of smoke alarms was under investigation.

No information was available on property losses from the fire.

Motor Vehicle


Fire following motor vehicle collision claims two victims

Firefighters were dispatched to the scene of a highway collision at 5:58 a.m. following multiple calls to 911 reporting a motor vehicle on fire with occupants still inside.

The fire chief and a firefighter arrived at the accident site within two minutes and used a fire extinguisher to knock the fire down, but the fire subsequently reignited. Three minutes later, an engine company arrived and reported that the burning vehicle was fully involved with fire in the center of the road, with a second heavily damaged vehicle off to the side. One firefighter pulled an attack line and extinguished the fire while a second joined medical personnel who were attending to an occupant of the second vehicle.

After the fire was knocked down, crews confirmed that two occupants of the burning vehicle were fatally injured and requested a coroner to the scene. Crews removed the victims from the vehicle after the coroner’s okay and returned to the station after the vehicles were loaded onto tow trucks.

Newspapers reported that the engine compartment of the victims’ car caught fire after the vehicle spun out and traveled into the path of the second vehicle, careening into a field after the head-on collision. No information was available on injuries to the driver of the second vehicle.



Spontaneous combustion blamed for fire that injures three

One civilian and two firefighters were injured in a house fire that started when discarded materials spontaneously ignited in a garage and spread to the house.

Firefighters were dispatched by a report of a structure fire at 8 p.m. Upon arrival, crews reported that the house was fully involved, and incident command called a second alarm. All occupants were found to be accounted for and outside of the building.

Crews established a water supply from two hydrants and began a defensive attack using a ladder pipe and two handlines. A third alarm was called while operations were in progress. Mutual aid brought in companies from eight nearby communities, as well as two ambulance crews. The last crews cleared the scene over four and a half hours after arrival.

The fire department’s incident report attributed the fire to the spontaneous combustion of waste products in a garage. Additional information from a newspaper account indicated that newspaper soaked with linseed oil had been stored in the trash in the garage, where it spontaneously ignited and spread to other trash. The fire was then further fueled by gasoline and garden products inside the garage and extended through an open doorway to the house.

The injured civilian was transported to the hospital for burn injuries that were described as minor. One firefighter suffered a knee injury of moderate severity when he slipped while using hand tools, and the second injured firefighter suffered smoke inhalation injuries that were not expected to result in lost work time.

In news coverage of the fire, the state fire marshal cautioned the public about the hazards of improper disposal of staining products.

The house was a single-story structure with an area of 2,500 square feet (232 square meters). It was protected by smoke alarms, which successfully activated and alerted occupants to the fire. The house and contents, collectively valued at $1 million, were a total loss.

FIREWATCH is compiled and written by Richard Campbell of NFPA’s Research Division. FIREWATCH is a compilation of fire incidents involving a variety of occupancies and fire types. The intent of Firewatch is to illustrate the range of fire scenarios encountered by the fire service, present the challenges contained in those incidents, recount how the fire service addressed those challenges, and record the effectiveness of fire protection systems, where such systems exist. The incidents are identified by NFPA’s Research Group from fire reports submitted to NFPA by responding fire departments. Some of the fire incidents that appear in Firewatch are augmented with details provided by media accounts. Top Photograph: CALVIN CHANEY, FIRE CHIEF BFD