Author(s): Richard Campbell. Published on July 1, 2020.


Fire incidents from across the country




Home fire causes $3 million in
damage, injures six firefighters

Work to remove paint from the roof of a home resulted in a fire that injured six firefighters and caused an estimated $3 million in damage to the structure.

The fire department was dispatched to the site at approximately 4 p.m. when workers called to report the fire, followed by notification from an alarm monitoring company after smoke detectors in the home activated. Reports indicated that workers initially tried to extinguish the fire themselves, causing a delay in notification.

Arriving crews found smoke showing from a five-story pyramid-shaped structure that was surrounded by a moat. Response operations were hindered by the inability of fire department vehicles to traverse a weight-restricted bridge that spanned the moat, and news reports also indicated that there were no fire hydrants in the area.

With the arrival of pumper trucks, crews began attacking the fire. News photos showed firefighters pouring water on the fire from an elevated bucket lift, which was apparently on site to provide workers with access to the roof. Multiple hoses were seen stretched across the bridge to the base of the structure.

Details were not available on how many firefighters were involved in the response or how long operations lasted before extinguishment. Five of the injured firefighters experienced smoke inhalation, and the sixth suffered a knee injury.

News reports indicated that the fire started on the second and third floors of the sloped roof, where workers were scraping and grinding paint. Investigators determined that heat from grinding equipment ignited wood and insulation materials, with fire then entering a void space and spreading into the building’s interior.

The building was a wood construction, with a concrete roof cover. There were conflicting details on the area of the building’s ground floor, but the total square footage was listed as 17,000 square feet (1,579 square meters).

The building was protected by a monitored alarm system with smoke detectors on every floor.

The fire caused an estimated $3 million in damage to the structure. No information was available on damage to contents.


Gas leak blamed for explosion
and fire that kills two

An early morning house fire that claimed the lives of two female occupants was caused by a natural gas explosion, according to investigators.

The fire department was called to the scene shortly before 8 a.m. by a neighbor, who indicated to dispatch that two occupants were outside the structure but were injured.

Arriving crews reported that fire and smoke were coming from a side window on the first floor of a two-story residence and that two ambulances had arrived to transport the injured to the hospital. News reports indicated that two occupants on the second floor had moved the victims outside and had evacuated the house without injury.

Crews pulled a hose and knocked down the fire venting from the window from the outside, then made entry through the front door and extinguished fires burning in several rooms on the first floor. A second hose was pulled to the second floor as crews searched for fire extension, which proved negative, but several small fires were found in different rooms in the basement. Crews detected a natural gas odor in an attached garage while extinguishing fire running alongside roof trusses and shut off gas at the meters.

The fire was determined to be knocked down by 8:15 a.m. Gas personnel reported to the scene to lock out the gas meters, and personnel from the electrical utility disconnected electricity at the pole. Neighbors assumed care for a dog, who firefighters had found inside the house and was unharmed by the explosion and fire.

The two victims succumbed to their injuries at a hospital later in the day.

Investigators determined that the fire started in the basement, when a water heater’s pilot light ignited a natural gas leak. The source of the gas leak remained under investigation.

The house was a wood construction with a ground floor area of 1,066 square feet (99 square meters).

Damage to the structure, valued at $130,000, was estimated at $62,000. There was an additional $10,000 damage to the home’s contents, valued at $20,000.

Smoking materials suspected
in fatal house fire

A smoldering cigarette butt was suspected in an early morning house fire that killed one man.

The fire department was dispatched to the fire at 3:30 a.m. by a neighbor’s call to 911, which was followed by multiple subsequent reports of a large residential fire.

Crews arrived to find a two-story wood house fully involved with fire, with a live electrical service line on the ground near one corner of the structure and the victim lying in a front yard across the street.

Medical care was summoned for the victim, and crews were instructed to remain clear of the downed line while the local electrical utility was called.

Incident command ordered a defensive attack. A hose line was advanced to the front of the house so that firefighters could attack the main body of fire, followed by a second line for fire attack at the rear and one side of the house.

Crews began transitioning to an offensive attack approximately 15 minutes after arrival and the majority of the fire was knocked down several minutes later. Crews conducted a primary search of the entire structure and began extensive overhaul to verify complete extinguishment.

The 911 caller later told investigators that she and her husband extinguished fire on the victim’s clothing after he ran out of the house. While awaiting medical evacuation, the victim informed investigators that he awoke to find fire outside his bedroom window on the second floor. The man was transported by medical helicopter to the hospital, but he later died from his burn injuries.

Investigators determined that the fire began on the front porch at ground level, the result of a smoldering cigarette butt. The fire spread rapidly up the exterior after igniting vinyl siding and wasn’t detected until the front porch was engulfed.

Investigators indicated that the house was equipped with smoke detectors on the first and second floors, but they were not heard to sound.

The house was a wood structure with a ground floor area of 572 square feet (53 square meters).

The house, valued at $53,000, was a total loss and was demolished as a result of the fire. The contents, valued at $5,000, also were a total loss.

Elderly woman dies from
car fire in attached garage

Investigators said a car parked in an attached garage was the origin of a fire that killed an elderly woman.

The fire department was called to the scene at 7 a.m. after a neighbor contacted 911. Arriving crews found the attached garage fully involved with fire. The victim’s adult son was outside the house and described in news reports as covered in black soot.

Before extinguishing the fire, crews entered the house and were able to revive the mother prior to transport to the hospital, but she later died as a result of smoke inhalation injuries.

Fire department reports indicated that the victim’s son was asleep in a lower level bedroom when he was awakened by a smoke detector at the other end of the home. He opened the garage door to find it fully engulfed with flames and turned back into the home to assist his mother, but was overcome by smoke. He escaped by jumping from a second-floor window.

According to news reports, he was also transported to the hospital, but his injury status was unknown.

Investigators determined that the fire originated in the engine compartment of a car parked in the garage, but were unable to identify the cause. The fire extended into the house and produced heavy smoke and heat damage.

The house was a two-story wood structure occupying a ground floor area of 1,800 square feet (167 square meters).

The fire caused $50,000 in damage to the house, valued at $103,000, and $20,000 in damage to its contents, valued at $75,000.


Kitchen fire blamed
for blaze that kills one

An early morning house fire that began in a kitchen area claimed the life of one resident, but two other occupants in the basement were able to escape through bedroom windows.

Firefighters were alerted to the fire when one of the home’s occupants called 911 at 1:30 a.m. Crews arrived to find heavy fire conditions in the kitchen and living areas and were informed that one or more people were trapped inside.

Crews simultaneously initiated extinguishment and search-and-rescue activities. Inside the structure, interior crews located a male occupant in a hallway area and carried him outside, where he was transferred to an ambulance for transport to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Two firefighters experienced back strain and smoke inhalation injuries during suppression activities and were also transported to the hospital for treatment, but were later returned to duty.

Investigators determined that the fire originated in the home’s kitchen, but they were unable to determine the cause.

There were conflicting reports on whether the residence was equipped with operational smoke detectors. News reports indicated that in response to the fire, the fire department was planning to canvas the neighborhood to assess homes for fire safety and was working with the Red Cross to provide free smoke detectors and batteries for those needing them.

The house was a single-story wood structure with a ground floor area of 616 square feet (57 square meters).

The house, valued at $25,000, was a total loss. The fire caused an additional $2,500 to the home’s contents, which had an estimated value of $5,000.

Vehicle Storage and Repair

Storage blaze causes
$2M in damage

An early evening fire in the storage and repair facility of a trucking company escalated to multiple alarms and caused nearly $2 million in damage, according to reports, while firefighting operations generated large amounts of hazardous runoff.

Crews were dispatched to the facility following a 911 call at 6 p.m. The large, shed-like facility housed semi-trucks and flammable materials and was located in an area with no fire hydrants. More than 30 fire departments ultimately responded. News reports indicated that crews brought the fire under control in approximately two hours, but that the fire wasn’t fully extinguished until midnight.

The fire chief said in news accounts that crews encountered flammable gases while battling the fire and that water pumped into the building ran onto surrounding land, carrying fuel with it. Environmental officials were at the scene to assess clean-up needs from the contaminated run-off.

Investigators identified a corner of the building where the fire originated and indicated that it was likely to involve mobile equipment, but the cause was listed as undetermined pending further information.

The facility had no automatic detection or extinguishing systems.

The building was a single-story structure and occupied a ground floor area of 15,950 square feet (1,482 square meters). The building was constructed with steel and wood frame walls and roof and a steel roof cover.

The building, valued at $1 million, and its contents, valued at $700,000, were a total loss.


Sprinklers quash debris fire

Sparks from a metal-cutting saw ignited debris at a warehouse renovation site, but the facility’s sprinkler system contained the fire until firefighters arrived to complete extinguishment.

Workers at the site called 911 at 2 p.m. to report the fire at about the same time notification was being made by the sprinkler system’s activated fire alarm. Crews arrived to find that sprinklers had activated above a debris pile in an open warehouse area. Crews put out remaining spot fires in the debris.

Investigators learned that the building was undergoing interior renovation and that roofing debris was being dropped into a pile for removal to a dumpster. As workers were operating the metal cutting saw above the pile, sparks dropped into the debris, igniting combustible material.

The warehouse was a single-story structure constructed with brick walls, a steel roof frame and rubber membrane roof deck. It occupied a ground floor area of 326,000 square feet (30,286 square meters).

There were no losses from the fire.


Driver dies in tractor trailer crash

A truck driver was killed when his tractor trailer jackknifed and rolled over on a highway, causing a massive fire when ruptured fuel tanks were ignited by sparks or heat from the engine.

Firefighters were dispatched to the scene by 911 calls from witnesses at 2:28 p.m. Arriving crews reported that the tractor trailer was positioned off the roadway and against a guardrail, resting on its side, and that it was fully involved with fire. Crews deployed two hoses and began attacking the fire from both sides of the trailer. Crews were told that the driver was still inside the cab but were unable to get close enough to confirm.

As crews attacked the fire, incident command requested that a mutual aid company bring a tanker to the scene. After the fire was brought under control, crews began looking for the driver, who was located under burned debris from the cab, already deceased. EMS crews and firefighters removed the victim and placed him in an ambulance.

Firefighters helped move debris from the roadway and stayed on the scene until it was determined that there was no remaining fire hazard.

News reports indicated that police believe that the tractor trailer went off the road after blowing a tire. 

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:Jane Tyska/Media News Group/The Mercury News via Getty Images