Author(s): Richard Campbell. Published on November 1, 2019.


Fire incidents from across the country




Hoarding conditions fuel fire, hinder response in fatal house fire

A house fire that was started by an ember or flame from a woodstove claimed the life of an elderly female occupant. Hoarding conditions were reported to have contributed to a heavy fuel load that complicated the efforts of firefighters to rescue the occupant.

The fire department was called to the scene when a family member returned home to find the fire at 8 p.m. Firefighters arrived to find heavy smoke exhausting from the residence and fire venting through the roof. Bystanders immediately approached crew members to advise them that an elderly resident was likely located in a bedroom in the front corner of the home.

An initial survey revealed that fencing prevented access to approximately half of the structure and that heavy fire was pushing from the rear toward the front of the home. Heavy smoke was coming from a window of the room where the occupant was believed to be located.

Crews pulled a hose and used a transitional attack through a front window to cool the front bedroom. They then brought a hose to the side of the building in an effort to stop the fire from advancing farther to the front, attacking it through a burned out opening in the exterior wall.

A search and rescue team made entry through the front window, but was unable to locate the victim in a primary search of the bedroom. They were hindered by large amounts of debris while continuing to search areas that were not under heavy fire conditions, exiting the building at one point to assess the potential for collapse. After multiple search attempts, incident command ordered crews to evacuate the building and to fight the fire from exterior locations.

Incident command requested resources from 10 communities as the fire progressed, including tanker trucks from several companies after the loss of the water supply. The fire was brought under control at 1:16 a.m. and crews then began overhaul and additional search efforts, which eventually located the remains of the victim amid debris. Crews cleared the scene at 5:45 a.m.

Investigators determined that the fire originated in a family room when an ember or flame from a woodstove ignited multiple types of combustible material.

The house was a single-story wood structure and occupied a ground floor area of 1,584 square feet (147 square meters).

Crews were unable to determine if the house was protected by automatic detection equipment. The house and its contents, together valued at $215,000, were a total loss.


Electrical problem suspected in house fire kills two children

An early morning house fire the day before Christmas claimed the lives of two children, who were reportedly on the second floor of the two-family residence.

Firefighters dispatched to the scene at 3:38 a.m. arrived to find the structure already fully involved with fire. As crews readied hoses for fire attack, they were informed by police officers that the two minors were still inside, according to news reports.

Firefighters were able to make entry after attacking the fire for approximately five minutes, but were initially delayed by the collapse of the front porch. Crews located and removed the victims, who were already deceased, amidst intense fire conditions once they were able to reach the second floor.

News reports indicated two adults and three other children were able to evacuate the residence and were treated for injuries at a local hospital. Two firefighters suffered injuries in the porch collapse.

Investigators determined that the fire began in the downstairs kitchen area with the ignition of cabinets and may have had an electrical origin. Firefighters indicated they found no evidence that the house was protected by smoke alarms.

The house was a wood structure with a ground floor area of 900 square feet (74 square meters).

The house and contents, collectively valued at $50,000, were a total loss.


Resident with mobility disability dies in house fire

A female occupant with a mobility disability died in a late-night house fire that was ignited by electrical arcing in a crawl space.

The fire department was dispatched at 9:45 p.m. after the occupant called a relative to report the fire, who then called 911.

Arriving crews reported heavy fire and smoke showing from a window at one side of the single-story structure. Initial size-up also found pressurized smoke emitting from eaves around the entire perimeter of the roof line and heavy smoke from the opposite side of the structure.

Incident command was informed by a neighbor that the resident of the house had a mobility disability and was possibly home. Crews pulled a hose for initial knockdown through the exterior side window, then entered the house through the rear to search for the resident and continue fire attack from inside. Additional firefighters were assigned to assist with interior search and extinguishment activities as they arrived on scene.

Approximately three minutes after entry, crews located the victim, who was already deceased, in a family room near the front of the house. Crews safeguarded the victim’s body while completing initial knockdown and overhaul operations. Fire suppression was hampered by large stacks of debris throughout the residence.

Crews continued with salvage and overhaul activities after the victim’s remains were recovered and removed by medical authorities.

Investigators indicated that the fire had been fueled by an accumulation of combustible materials inside the residence. They also determined that the house, which occupied a ground floor area of 1,000 square feet (93 square meters), was equipped with smoke alarms. The house, valued at $46,000, and its contents, valued at $15,000, were a total loss.


No smoke alarms in fatal house fire caused by smoking materials

An early morning house fire that claimed the life of an elderly man was caused by smoking materials, according to fire investigators.

Firefighters were dispatched at 4:33 a.m. and reached the scene within five minutes of the alarm, where they found fire and smoke showing from a single-family home.

Crews stretched a handline to the front entrance and forced open the door to begin the fire attack. Incident command made assignments for primary search and rapid intervention teams. After making entry, the search team found the occupant in a front corner of the house and transported him outside to medical staff, who transported him to the hospital.

Inside the structure, crews were able to confine the fire to the room of origin, but there was smoke and heat damage throughout the remainder of the residence.

After completing extinguishment, crews set up positive pressure ventilation and conducted a secondary search of the home. Crews made a final check for hot spots before clearing the scene for entry by fire investigators, who determined that the fire was caused by discarded smoking materials.

The occupant of the home succumbed to his injuries in a hospital burn unit two weeks after the fire.

The house occupied a ground floor area of 1,288 square feet (120 square meters). It was not equipped with smoke detectors. No information was available on the dollar cost of damages.


Occupant rescued by firefighters, but later dies of injuries

A late afternoon house fire claimed the life of a female occupant who was rescued by firefighters, but later succumbed to smoke inhalation injuries at a local hospital.

The fire department was alerted to the fire by a 911 call shortly after 5 p.m., which reported a house fire with possible entrapment.

Arriving crews found heavy fire at the rear of a two-story residence. Crews laid a hose line to the front of the building and initially began attacking the fire through the front door, but were hindered by excessive overgrowth at the front entrance. Firefighters from an engine company then began attacking the fire at the rear of the residence from basement access.

Two search-and-rescue teams began searches on the first and second floors while rapid intervention teams set up ladders at the front and side of the structure. At 5:25 p.m., the search team on the second floor advised the chief that they had located the female occupant and requested assistance in evacuating her through a front window. Crews from a rapid intervention team and ladder company assisted in bringing the occupant down from a front porch roof. A medical team assumed care of the occupant and transported her to a local hospital with a police escort.

Fire attack from the basement was slowed by excessive hoarding conditions, but the fire was placed under control after 30 minutes. Crews conducted secondary searches of the residence and began overhaul activities, with some crew members remaining on the scene for several hours to extinguish hot spots.

Investigators determined that the fire began at the rear of the basement, where multiple stores of paper and wood provided a significant fuel load, but were unable to determine the source of ignition.

The house was a two-story structure constructed with concrete block walls, wood roof deck and frame, and roll shingles. It covered a ground floor area of 800 square feet (74 square meters).

Damage to the house, valued at $95,000, was estimated at $45,000 to $50,000. No estimates were available for damage to its contents.


Early morning fire injures two and causes nearly $6 million in damages

An early morning fire at a condominium complex injured a resident and a firefighter and caused damage estimated at $6 million, but investigators were unable to determine what caused the fire to ignite inside the injured resident’s bedroom.

Firefighters responded to the fire following a call to 911 at 1 a.m. Arriving crews reported visible smoke and fire from a second-floor window in one building of the four-building complex. Outside, an elderly female informed crews that she had been awakened by the smoke detector and that her bedding was on fire, which she placed in her bathtub before exiting the building. Medical crews treated the resident for burns on her hands and feet and prepared to transport her to a local hospital as suppression efforts got underway.

Firefighters conducted a primary search of the six-unit building to ensure that all residents had evacuated. Crews advanced two hoses up the stairwell and began attacking the fire in the apartment of origin but were eventually pulled out as fire penetrated the roof and a deck gun was placed into service.

Fire operations continued through the morning as the fire spread, with one firefighter transported to the hospital for minor unspecified injuries. The fire was concentrated in the building of origin, but reports indicated that at least two additional buildings in the complex were damaged. Crews cleared the scene shortly after 1 p.m.

Investigators identified several potential ignition sources for the fire, including a heating pad, power strip, lamp, and laptop computer, but were unable to pinpoint the specific source and first item ignited in the fire.

The condominium buildings were three-story structures, but no other details were available on building materials or their size.

The fire caused an estimated $5 million in damage to the buildings and an additional $900,000 in damage to building contents.


Fire started by space heater kills one

A 60-year-old man with a mobility disability died of smoke inhalation injuries after a space heater ignited a fire in his home’s family room.

The victim’s wife called 911 at 1:47 p.m. after returning home and finding smoke in the garage and residence. Firefighters arrived to find that the fire was confined to the family room and was almost completely out. They located the husband in a laundry room, already deceased.

Investigators indicated that the fire started when an electric space heater came in contact with the couch. The fire then spread throughout the family room.

The residence was equipped with smoke detectors, but reports did not indicate whether they activated during the fire.

The fire caused $15,000 in damage to the home, valued at $95,000, and an additional $2,000 damage to its contents, valued at $18,000.

The house was a single-story wood construction and occupied a ground floor area of 1,792 square feet (166 square meters).


Fatal house fire starts in clothes dryer

A fire that began in a clothes dryer engulfed a house and claimed the life of its female resident, who firefighters indicated was overcome by smoke near the front door while trying to escape.

A neighbor called 911 to report the fire at approximately 7:30 a.m. News reports indicated that the residence was fully involved with fire as firefighters reached the scene and that neighbors seeking to enter the house had been driven back by smoke and flames.

Crews found the victim just inside the front door.

Investigators determined that the fire started in a clothes dryer in the basement when the equipment’s electric element ignited clothing inside. The dryer’s vent was found to be fully clogged with lint. The home was not equipped with smoke detectors that could have alerted the victim to the fire.

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

The house and its contents were a total loss.


Smoking while using portable oxygen blamed for house fire that kills one

A mid-afternoon house fire that claimed the life of an elderly female was ignited by a cigarette, according to investigators.

Firefighters were dispatched by a 911 call reporting a bedroom on fire at 2:30 p.m. An engine company that was first to arrive reported nothing showing from a two-story residence. On investigation, crews found smoke showing on the first floor and were informed by an occupant waiting outside that the fire was in a second-floor bedroom, where a relative was staying.

Crews pulled a preconnected hose line into the structure to begin fire attack while crews assigned to vertical ventilation proceeded to the roof. After finding the victim in a bed in the fire room, interior crews advanced a handline to the door and poured water on the fire, then removed the victim through the front of the house, where she was turned over to medical staff for treatment and transport to the hospital.

Crews completed fire extinguishment, which was confined to the room of origin, then conducted primary and secondary searches to ensure no remaining occupants were inside the structure.

Investigators learned from family members that the victim, who had a mobility disability and relied on portable oxygen, had a history of smoking in bed. In the bedroom, they found that oxygen tubing on the victim’s portable nebulizer had burned completely back to the equipment’s concentrator and determined that the bed was the point of fire origin. They determined that the victim’s cigarette ignited bed fabric while she was using oxygen and that oxygen from the concentrator allowed the fire to accelerate.

There was no indication of whether the residence was equipped with smoke detectors.

The house was a two-story woodframe structure with walls constructed of brick and wood. It occupied a ground floor area of 1,400 square feet (130 square meters).

The fire caused $25,000 in damage to the house, valued at $250,000, as well as $70,000 in damage to contents, which had an estimated value of $125,000.



Fire in repair shop claims two lives

Two people died in an early morning fire at a computer and electronics repair shop that was reported by a passing motorist at approximately 7:30 a.m. A fire department report indicated that foggy conditions may have complicated detection of the fire.

Arriving firefighters reported smoke showing all around the roofline of the structure, with the heaviest smoke concentrated at the rear of the facility. Anticipating a heavy fire load due to the contents of the shop, incident command issued a call for mutual aid. As crews began attacking the fire through the front of the structure, they were not aware that occupants were possibly inside.

With the arrival of a mutual aid company, crews opened a second fire attack at the back of the building, where they found heavy smoke from ceiling to floor level. Crews were informed approximately 40 minutes after arrival that someone had been staying in the structure and was not responding to phone calls, but an initial search became too difficult as the fire grew in intensity.

Crews used an aerial apparatus to begin ventilating the roof following the arrival of an additional mutual aid company. Crews also extinguished fire that had spread into the first floor of an attached building.

Incident command issued a call for additional mutual aid. At approximately 9 a.m., fire self-vented through the roof of the main structure and quickly grew. Incident command issued an evacuation order and crews were placed in defensive positions, with monitors at the front and rear. An aerial stream subsequently replaced personnel at the front of the building after cracks were noted in the exterior wall.

After the fire was contained and crews began extinguishing hotspots, the bodies of the two victims were found in a room at the rear of the building. Both victims were transported to an emergency care facility.

Investigators were unable to establish a cause due to the extensive damage. News reports indicated that one of the victims was a friend of the owner and was allowed to sleep in an old office being used as a bedroom.

The building was not protected by automatic detection or sprinkler systems.

The building was a single-story structure with a steel frame, metal roof deck and cover, and concrete floor. The interior walls were constructed from wood and exterior walls from mixed materials. It occupied a ground floor area of 2,400 square feet (223 square meters).

The building and its contents, collectively valued at $160,000, were a total loss.


Sprinkler extinguishes overnight fire in department store

An overnight fire in a department store was extinguished by the facility’s sprinkler system before it could spread, according to fire department reports.

The fire department was dispatched shortly after 2:30 a.m. by an alarm monitoring company following activation of the alarm system. Crews reported no signs of fire on arrival at a shopping mall where the store was located, and crews detected no visual or audible signs of alarm or sprinkler activation from the exterior.

After finding no apparent sprinkler activity inside the facility, crews were led by a store representative to a separate area of the store, where they found water coming from beneath a closed office door. Inside the office, they found that a small fire had started on a desk and spread to an office chair. A single sprinkler had activated to extinguish the fire.

Investigators determined that an electronic device had been left on the desk to charge overnight. The fire started when the device overheated and ignited.

In a press release, the fire department’s battalion chief credited the sprinkler system with minimizing potentially substantial damage to the department store.

The building was a two-story structure constructed with concrete walls, steel floor and roof framing, and an asphalt roof covering. It occupied a ground floor area of 114,394 square feet (10,627 square meters). 

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: TONY FITZHERBERT