Author(s): Richard Campbell. Published on July 2, 2018.


Fire incidents from across the country




Hoarding conditions cited in fatal house fire

Fire investigators indicated that hoarding conditions complicated rescue efforts in a house fire that claimed the life of the home’s sole occupant, while also contributing to the victim’s own inability to escape.

A neighbor’s call reporting a house fire sent firefighters to the scene at 9:23 p.m. Upon arrival, crews reported that smoke and flames were venting through a skylight and door wall at the rear of the single-story structure. Neighbors indicated that the home’s occupant was likely to still be inside the house.

Incident command performed a 360-degree walk-around of the house as crews prepared fire attack lines. An engine company crew attempted to make a forcible entry through the front entrance but obstructions inside the house initially prevented them from fully opening the door. After moving several items, the crew was able to enter and advanced to the seat of the fire located in a family room in the rear.

Crews were unable to make progress in knocking down the fire with the single hose and an order was given to evacuate. Inaccessible passageways due to interior clutter impeded efforts to locate the occupant of the house and extinguish the fire.

Crews resumed fire attack from the exterior, deploying lines at the front and rear of the house. They were able to bring the fire under control approximately 90 minutes after arrival.

Crews initiated a systematic search for the occupant, starting from the location of the fire origin as ventilation and overhaul activities began. It was another 40 minutes before his body was found beneath items at the bottom of the basement stairs. Crews left the body in place pending an investigation. The cause of death was later found to be smoke inhalation.

One firefighter was hospitalized after suffering from dizziness and weakness while engaged in fire suppression activities, which newspaper reports noted were carried out in very hot and humid conditions. Newspaper reports indicated that crews from five municipal fire stations took part in firefighting and search-and-rescue efforts.

Investigators believe that the fire was caused by the ignition of combustible items by smoking materials. There were no functioning smoke alarms in the residence.

The house was a single-story structure constructed of wood, with brick walls. It occupied a ground floor area of 1,500 square feet (139 square meters).

The house and its contents, together valued at $250,000, were a total loss.


Extension cord blamed for fatal fire

An elderly female resident died in an early evening fire that originated on a rear porch and traveled into the structure, the result of textiles igniting from an overheated extension cord.

Firefighters were dispatched to the scene by the county fire dispatch following a phone call from a passerby at 6:45 p.m. According to newspaper reports, arriving crews found the rear of the house heavily involved with fire. The fire was said to have caused heavy damage and took approximately 45 minutes for crews to bring under control. According to reports, firefighters from at least six departments responded to the fire.

The occupant was transported to the hospital but died of smoke inhalation injuries.

Investigators determined that the cause of the fire was overheating of a long extension cord that ran from an exterior receptacle across a porch floor to an electric fencing unit. The cord was covered by textiles on the porch floor and heat from the cord caused the textiles to ignite. Fire traveled up the wall to the roof of the porch and into the structure.

The single-story house was described in news reports as a rural residence on about 60 acres of land. Investigators found no evidence of smoke alarms in the home, which was described as heavily damaged.

The house was a two-story wood structure with a metal roof. No information was available on the size of the house or dollar losses from the fire. News reports indicated that the house and land had a total assessment of just under $28,000.


Two die when cigarette ignites bedding materials

An elderly woman and her adult son died in a house fire that started when the mother’s cigarette ignited bedding materials while she was smoking in bed.

Firefighters were summoned to the scene by a radio transmission from the police department at 6:08 a.m. While en route, crews noted smoke visible from several blocks away and arrived to find heavy smoke coming from the entire house and flames emitting from one side of the structure.

Outside the house, crews were informed by a caretaker and neighbor that the home’s occupants were still inside. One team made entry for rescue and suppression and located the male occupant, who was evacuated and turned over to medical crews, who initiated CPR. A second team entered the structure and found the mother, who had a mobility disability, in the bed and severely burned. At that point, a coroner was summoned, and news reports indicated that both victims were pronounced dead at the scene.

Firefighters extinguished the fire, then set up a ventilation fan to remove smoke and heat. Investigators learned from the caretaker that the woman was smoking in bed when her cigarette ignited bedding. She asked the caretaker to get a container of water to put the fire out, but he indicated that there was heavy smoke and fire in the room when he returned, and he then ran to a neighbor’s house to summon help.

The house was a two-story wood structure, with a ground floor area of 4,025 square feet (374 square meters) on the first floor and 2,260 square feet (210 square meters) on the second floor.

Damage to the house, valued at $500,000, was estimated at $480,000, with an additional $80,000 in damage to the contents.


House fire ignited by candle kills two, injuries a third

Two residents died and a third suffered smoke inhalation injuries in a mid-morning house fire that started when a candle ignited combustible materials in a bedroom.

The fire had burned through the bedroom ceiling before it was spotted by a passerby, who called 911 at approximately 9:30 a.m. Crews from an engine company reached the scene approximately five minutes after being dispatched, but they later estimated that the fire had already been burning for 10 minutes before the call was made to 911.

Crews were met by civilian passersby who had already pulled a male resident from the doorway. They informed crew members that they heard cries for help from inside, but were unable to enter due to smoke conditions.

Crews entered the structure and began suppression efforts in the living room, working toward the seat of the fire in an adjacent bedroom. Two crew members located an elderly female in the kitchen and pulled her outside, where she was transferred to a life rescue helicopter for transport to the nearest burn unit. A second female, already deceased, was located in the master bedroom’s bathroom, where the fire had originated.

The male occupant was transported to the hospital and later released after treatment for smoke inhalation injuries. The elderly female died from smoke inhalation and burn injuries at the hospital.

Investigators concluded that the fire started when the second female stumbled to the bathroom with a candle while intoxicated. They indicated that the fire burned with minimal intrusion to the rest of the house before the other occupants became aware of it. The investigators reported that the structure’s construction contributed to the fire’s rapid burn through the bedroom ceiling, indicating that a tongue-and-groove wall covering combusted rapidly and helped fuel flames that shot 40 to 60 feet above the master bedroom.

Information on the presence of detection equipment was not reported.

The single-story house was a wood structure occupying a ground floor area of 800 square feet (74 square meters).

The house, valued at $100,000, was a total loss. The value of lost contents was described as minimal.


Fatal house fire blamed on smoking while on oxygen

An early morning house fire that claimed the life of a male occupant began when the victim’s cigarette ignited a plastic nasal cannula in his living room, with the fire then spreading to carpet and other nearby combustibles.

Firefighters responded to the fire just before 6 a.m. following a 911 call by a resident driving through the area who smelled smoke and went to investigate. Upon arrival, firefighters reported heavy smoke emitting from all of the eaves of the single-story residence.

An engine company pulled a pre-connect hose for fire attack, and two teams were assigned primary search of the first floor and a walk-out basement. Inside the house, crews found the victim in a living room chair and a fire burning in a center office area and the basement. The rescue team moved the deceased victim outside while interior crews extinguished the fire.

Investigators determined that the nasal cannula had been ignited by a cigarette while oxygen was still flowing and that the subsequent fire burned through the floor and dropped into the basement.

Newspaper reports indicated that the resident died as a result of smoke inhalation. Fire officials expressed frustration that the death could have been prevented, underscoring the hazards of smoking while on home oxygen.

The house was equipped with smoke alarms, but it was unclear whether they operated during the fire.

The house was a single-story, wood-framed structure with stucco siding and interior walls containing sheet rock and occupied a ground floor area of 2,400 square feet (223 square meters).

No estimates were available on dollar losses caused by the fire.


Electrical fault sparks fire that displaces residents

An electrical fault in a ceiling fan was blamed for an early morning fire in a multifamily residence.

Firefighters were dispatched to the fire following a 911 call from one of the occupants after a smoke alarm in his unit activated just after midnight. On arrival, crews reported fire on the second floor of a two-and-a-half-story wood-frame structure.

The fire escalated to four alarms before firefighters were able to knock it down. News reports indicated that 11 occupants were displaced by the fire, but none were injured. One firefighter was reported to have suffered a back injury at the scene.

Following the fire, news reports indicated that the city was investigating the property owner for operating an illegal rooming house. Some internal doors were said to be secured with padlocks, violating municipal housing rules.

Investigators determined that the fire was caused by an electrical short circuit in a ceiling fan in a second-floor bathroom.

The building was composed of five residential units. According to news reports, a city inspector indicated that he did not find the number of smoke alarms in the building that were required by municipal codes. The building did not have sprinkler protection.

The building occupied a ground floor area of 3,126 square feet (290 square meters).

The fire caused an estimated $500,000 in damage to the structure, valued at $560,000, and an additional $500,000 in damage to the contents.


Two die in fire ignited by discarded cigarette

A late-night fire ignited by a discarded cigarette claimed the lives of a husband and wife in their manufactured home.

A neighbor saw smoke from the residence and called 911 at 9:25 p.m. Upon arrival, firefighters described the residence as 60 percent involved with fire.

Firefighters initiated suppression and rescue operations. Approximately five minutes after arrival, the two victims were located in a rear bedroom and transported outside. EMS personnel at the scene determined that both victims were deceased.

Bystanders informed firefighters that the husband had initially escaped the fire through a back door but returned inside in an effort to save his wife. The bystanders reportedly tried to stop him and made unsuccessful efforts to save both victims.

Investigators determined that the fire started on a screened porch when a discarded cigarette ignited furniture and spread into the residence.

Investigators found no evidence that the residence was protected by smoke alarms. They noted that there were no stairs at an exit where the bodies of the victims were found.

The manufactured home was constructed with a wood frame and a metal roof and metal skin walls. It occupied a ground floor area of 900 square feet (84 square meters).

The home and its contents, together valued at $45,000, were a total loss.


Discarded smoking materials start fatal fire

An early morning fire that spread into a home via an outdoor deck claimed the life of one resident.

Firefighters responded to a 911 call by an occupant awakened by the sound of the fire and exited the structure. The caller informed dispatch that the house was filling with smoke and occupants were evacuating, but an adult male occupant was possibly still inside in a basement area.

Crews arrived to find flames emitting through the roof of a single-story structure. The evacuated occupants confirmed that an adult male occupant was still inside. Command issued a request for a second EMS unit and a second alarm assignment and crews prepared to make a rescue attempt at a rear corner of the house following a full visual assessment of the perimeter.

Two firefighters pulled a hose to the rear of the house to support the rescue attempt, but crews had to abandon the rescue effort due to heavy fire involvement from the basement to the attic. Incident command ordered crews to mount defensive operations.

Firefighters from several companies assisted in extinguishment efforts and provided water shuttles due to the absence of fire hydrants in the area. The fire was declared under control 52 minutes after the arrival of the first engine company. Crews found the body of the male occupant approximately 40 minutes later.

Investigators determined that the fire started outside near a walkout basement door, which the victim used as a smoking area. Discarded smoking materials were found to have ignited a plastic container used as a smoking receptacle. Fire spread to an adjacent wooden deck structure, where it eventually breached a glass door and extended into the home’s interior.

The residence was a single-story wood structure with a ground floor area of 2,100 square feet (195 square meters). The house had no working smoke alarms.

The fire caused an estimated $240,000 in damage to the house, valued at $300,000, as well as $150,000 in damage to its contents.


Fire started by candle kills two

A late-night house fire that began when a candle was tipped over claimed the lives of two residents.

Firefighters were dispatched to the fire following a phone call from a third occupant. Newspaper accounts reported that the caller was in the driveway when crews arrived and told them that there were two people inside. The reports indicated that firefighters entered the house and found a male occupant on the first floor who was pronounced dead at the scene, then evacuated a female occupant who was found on the second floor. Ambulance crews transported her to the hospital, where she was pronounced dead. Both victims died of smoke inhalation.

News reports indicated that the fire was confined to the living room and extinguished by firefighters within five minutes.

Investigators learned that the fire started in the living room, where several candles were burning while the third occupant watched television. One of the candles was knocked onto the floor and ignited a pile of newspapers.

The house was not equipped with smoke alarms or a sprinkler system.

The house was a two-story wood structure. No estimates were available on dollar losses to the structure, but damage to house contents was estimated at $50,000.


One dies, two injured in apartment cooking fire

One person died and two others were injured in a fire at an apartment complex that was ignited by cooking oil left heating on an electric cook stove.

Firefighters were dispatched to the scene at 12 a.m. following a call to 911 by an apartment occupant. Arriving crews reported that flames were showing from one corner of the structure, a nine-unit apartment building, and were running along another side of the building. Heavy dark smoke emitted on all sides. Incident command made a request for additional assistance from two mutual aid companies shortly after reaching the scene.

Crews made an initial attack using four handlines, joined by additional lines as mutual aid crews arrived. Fifteen minutes into operations, incident command determined that conditions called for a defensive effort and instructed crews to deploy master streams, including two aerial devices and two monitor nozzles.

While crews were attacking the fire, incident command learned that one resident was unaccounted for, and he requested that crews on an aerial ladder cease firefighting and investigate the victim’s unit on the second floor. The crews entered the victim’s unit through a window and found his body, which they were asked to protect until it could be removed by the coroner.

Firefighters achieved extinguishment of the fire at 4 a.m. One truck was left at the scene to control any rekindling fires.

Investigators learned that the fire originated in a unit where occupants were heating oil in a fryer to prepare a meal. The occupants reported that the oil ignited while they were in another room waiting for it to heat and that the fire spread rapidly in the kitchen. After failing to extinguish the fire with two fire extinguishers, the occupants began banging on doors of other units to alert residents of the need to evacuate.

Reports indicate that the victim had a mobility disability and died from smoke inhalation. Two other residents suffered smoke inhalation injuries that were not life threatening. News accounts reported that police officers helped several residents escape the fire prior to the fire department’s arrival. The Red Cross was said to be assisting residents with housing, food, and medical needs.

Investigators determined that each unit in the building was equipped with a smoke alarm. Reports indicated that the alarm in the apartment of the fire’s origin and another in the hallway were activated by the fire. The units were not equipped with automatic sprinkler protection.

The apartment building was a two-story structure with a wood frame and brick exterior and occupied a ground floor area of 3,072 square feet (285 square meters).

The building and its contents, valued at $400,000, were a total loss.



Sprinkler extinguishes fire at auto dealership

Firefighters dispatched to a car dealership shortly before midnight arrived to find that a fire in an overhead light had already been extinguished by the facility’s sprinkler system.

An alarm monitoring company notified the fire department at 11:50 p.m. that the dealership’s automatic detection system had activated, and firefighters were at the scene three minutes later.

Crews found smoke in the building and alarm and sprinkler systems operating. In the corner of a showroom, they found that sprinklers had extinguished a fire originating in a ceiling. After checking, crews found no signs of fire extension. They then set up fans to ventilate the building.

Investigators determined that the fire started in a fluorescent light fixture in the showroom’s suspended ceiling but were unable to identify a specific electrical cause. The fire was limited to the showroom’s immediate ceiling area.

The building was a single-story fire-resistive structure. The structure occupied an area of 29,000 square feet (2,694 square meters), with a main floor area of 10,000 square feet (929 square meters).


Sprinklers control water-cooler fire

Sprinklers controlled a fire that began in a four-story office when a water cooler’s motor overheated and ignited a cubicle wall.

Firefighters were alerted to the fire by an alarm monitoring company at 6 a.m. Arriving crews reported a working fire in an office cubicle on the first floor of the building. Two sprinkler heads had activated and contained the fire to the area of origin. According to news reports, crews were able to quickly complete extinguishment with a fire extinguisher.

Investigators determined that a water cooler in the cubicle was pushed against the wall, allowing no air movement and causing the motor to overheat, which ignited a cubicle wall and melted a plastic garbage can.

The building was of masonry and steel construction with a rubber roof cover and occupied a ground floor area of 18,644 square feet (1,732 square meters). It was protected by smoke detectors and a wet pipe sprinkler system on all four floors.

The fire caused an estimated $100,000 in smoke and water damage to building contents but no damage to the building, valued at $5.9 million.



Patients evacuated in hospital fire

A fire on a hospital roof required the evacuation of patients from the top two floors but resulted in no injuries.

Firefighters were alerted by an alarm activation at the hospital shortly after 2 a.m. Arriving crews were met by security personnel who reported smoke and heat on the sixth floor.

After crews investigated conditions, it was decided to move patients on the fifth and sixth floors to an emergency evacuation area. Incident command designated crews to assist hospital staff with patient transfers, while other crews carried equipment to a staging area established on the fifth floor.

Firefighters reviewed building blueprints and structural design information in identifying ways to access the fire area, which newspaper reports indicated was concentrated in a void space between two wings of the hospital. Those accounts also reported that crews were able to extinguish the fire quickly.

Investigators determined that the fire began when hot material from a coating machine ignited materials on the roof, where repairs were taking place. A wooden substructure that enclosed a void space smoldered for a period of time before igniting, according to news coverage.

No information was available on damage from the fire.



Young fire-setter dies in massive arson blaze

A large incendiary fire that began in a vacant building on the grounds of a recycling property claimed the life of a juvenile fire-setter and caused approximately $5 million in damage.

The fire was detected by a neighbor who called 911 at 6:30 p.m. Firefighters reached the scene three minutes later.

The fire originated on the second floor of an abandoned building on a 21-acre industrial complex. Investigators indicated that the building of origin contained a large supply of crumb rubber inventory that contributed to the fire’s spread. More than 225 firefighters from 62 departments were involved in fighting the fire, which burned for more than 62 hours. Newspaper coverage reported that crews deployed 19 fire engines and three aerial ladders in the response.

Investigators determined that a juvenile used a lighter to ignite paper and other combustibles in the center of the abandoned building. In news reports, authorities speculated that the victim became disoriented in thick black smoke and was unable to find a way out. His body was found in the building approximately 48 hours after the fire began, according to media coverage.

The building of fire origin was constructed with brick walls, a wood and concrete floor, and an asphalt membrane roof over a steel frame. The structure occupied a ground floor area of 16,875 square feet (1,568 square meters).

The building did not have automatic detection or extinguishing equipment.

The fire caused an estimated $200,000 in damage to the building and just over $5 million in contents losses.



Oily rags blamed for function hall fire

An overnight fire started by oily rags caused significant damage in a function hall that lacked sprinkler protection.

Firefighters were dispatched to the scene at 1:57 a.m. following a 911 call. Crews reported a fully involved structure fire upon arrival approximately five minutes after dispatch. Teams attacked the fire from different sides of the building, and crews reported that the fire was out and that they were attacking hot spots just over an hour after arrival.

Investigators determined that the fire started when rags soaked in cooking oil and stored in a cardboard box in the kitchen had spontaneously combusted, with the fire spreading to other combustibles. News reports said damage was extensive and the structure would possibly have to be rebuilt.

The building was a single-story construction with a steel frame, concrete floor, steel roof cover, and steel siding on slab. No information was available on building size. The building was not equipped with a detection system or automatic extinguishing equipment.

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: Sterling Heights, MI Fire Department