Published on March 1, 2018.


Fire incidents from across the country




Sprinkler system extinguishes dorm fire caused by clothing iron

Sprinklers extinguished a fire in a college dormitory after a clothes iron ignited a pile of clothing on a bedroom floor.

Firefighters were dispatched to the scene by a central station alarm at 1 p.m. Upon arrival, crews reported no signs of fire showing from the structure, a five-story brick building, and entered the building with a campus security officer to investigate the alarm. They proceeded to the fifth floor after learning from crews staged outside that water was coming out of a fifth floor window.

Crews found that the entire hallway on the fifth floor was filled with smoke and heard sprinkler activation inside the room of fire origin while investigating the source of the smoke. After forcing the door, the crews found significant smoke, an actively flowing sprinkler head, and a pile of clothes on the floor that had been the source of a fire that had been extinguished.

When it was determined that there was no fire extension, crews were assigned to establish ventilation, shut off the sprinkler system, and assist with water removal.

Investigators determined that the fire was caused by the ignition of clothes that had been piled atop an energized and heated iron, creating a smoldering fire that spread to an adjacent chair before activating the sprinkler.

The entire dormitory was protected by a wet-pipe sprinkler system. One sprinkler activated in the room of fire origin and was effective in extinguishing the fire.

The dormitory occupied a ground floor area of 10,000 square feet (929 square meters).

The fire caused an estimated $1,500 in damage to contents in the dormitory room.


Candle ignites apartment fire that claims life of resident

One resident died in an early-morning fire that was caused by a candle left burning on a dining room table.

Firefighters were dispatched at 4:55 a.m. by a report of a building fire in a multifamily apartment complex. Upon arrival, crews observed a working fire in a two-story residential structure. Bystanders reported that residents were possibly trapped inside the building.

Firefighters immediately initiated rescue and extinguishment efforts. Crews entered the building and were quickly able to extinguish a fire in the living room of a first floor apartment. The rescue team found the body of a male resident in a bedroom in the unit’s second floor. The body was left in place until an investigation into cause could be completed.

Investigators determined that the fire began in a first floor living room where a candle came into contact with combustible materials on a dining room table while two occupants were on the second floor, unaware of the fire. One of the occupants awoke to smoke and fire conditions and was able to escape through a window, but the second occupant was unable to evacuate after attempts to alert him.

Reports indicated that the property was not protected by automatic detection equipment or a sprinkler system.

The building was a wood-frame structure consisting of eight two-story apartment units, with a ground floor area of 3,404 square feet (316 square meters). Each apartment contained approximately 851 square feet (79 square meters) of living space.

Damage from the fire was estimated at $45,000.


Cigarette blamed for fire that kills elderly woman

An elderly resident with limited mobility succumbed to burn injuries after her cigarette ignited her clothing and the combustible material of a chair in which she was sitting.

The fire department responded to an emergency medical service call at 7:30 p.m. when a family member arrived at the house and called 911 after seeing smoke in the kitchen. When the first arriving units reported active smoke at the location, additional fire service units were dispatched to the scene, including a battalion chief, truck company, and paramedic unit.

Firefighters were met by the family member outside the house, who told them he had tried to extinguish the fire with a blanket but was overcome by smoke. He advised firefighters that there was an occupant in the room that was on fire.

Crews entered the residence and were able to quickly extinguish the fire with minimal water usage. They found the victim lying on the floor of the kitchen in the area of fire with thermal burns over her entire body. The victim was pronounced dead at the scene by medical personnel.

The home was equipped with a battery-operated smoke alarm, which was operating when firefighters reached the scene.

The house was a one-and-a-half-story wood structure and occupied a ground floor area of 1,700 square feet (158 square meters).

The fire caused an estimated $10,000 in damage to the house and $1,000 in damage to the contents.

South Carolina

Fatal fire blamed on discarded ashes from wood stove

A house fire that started on an attached porch claimed the life of a young girl after it spread into the dwelling through an adjacent wall and window.

One of the home’s occupants called 911 after spotting the fire at 10:30 p.m.

As they reached the scene, firefighters reported that the back porch and rear of the house were fully involved with fire, as was part of the attic, and that smoke was venting from the rest of the two-story structure.

Firefighters formed two search teams upon learning that occupants were believed to still be inside, sending one team to the first floor and the other to the second floor. The first floor search crew located the victim in the front living room behind a couch and evacuated her through the front door, where she was placed on a stretcher and transported to the hospital by ambulance.

Investigators determined that discarded wood-stove ashes stored in a bucket outside the house were the probable source of ignition. Fire department reports indicated that a strong wind was blowing toward the porch under conditions of dry humidity at the time of the fire.

The fire began on the porch and spread upwards behind a knee wall into the attic of the home, as well as spreading into the dwelling through a porch window.

Newspaper reports indicated that other family members were gathered outside at the time of the fire.

The house was a wood structure with asphalt shingles and occupied a ground floor area of 900 square feet (84 square meters). Firefighters found two smoke alarms on the floor of a second floor bedroom, but they did not believe the alarms were operated during the fire.

Damage to the house, valued at $45,000, was estimated at $40,000. The contents, with a value of $30,000, were a total loss.


Man dies in house fire caused by unattended cooking materials

One man died in a house fire that began when unattended cooking materials ignited on the stove, with the fire then spreading upward to cabinets and into the kitchen.

Firefighters were summoned to the scene by a neighbor, who spotted the fire at 6:28 p.m. and called 911.

Upon arrival, crews were able to quickly extinguish the fire, which was contained to the kitchen. Firefighters located the victim within twelve minutes of the 911 call and evacuated him to an ambulance for transport to the hospital, where he was later pronounced dead as a result of smoke inhalation injuries. News reports indicated that the victim appeared to be trapped in a bedroom.

Investigators indicated that it was unclear how long the fire had been burning before it was detected by the neighbor. They noted that the home was not protected by smoke alarms and that this was a factor that contributed to the fatality.

The house was a single-story wood frame structure and occupied a ground floor area of 1,100 square feet (102 square meters).

The fire caused $25,000 in damage to the house, valued at $75,000, and $10,000 in damage to the contents, valued at $20,000.


Cigarette blamed for house fire resulting in two deaths

A late night house fire ignited by a cigarette claimed the lives of two occupants, while also causing injuries to four police officers and a firefighter who responded to the blaze.

Firefighters were dispatched by reports of a structure fire shortly after 11 p.m. Upon arrival, incident command reported that flames were visible through the front window and above the front door, and he also indicated that several police officers were already on the scene.

As the incident commander performed a size-up, he heard a police officer tell another to kick in the front door and incident command instructed them not to do so. Shortly afterwards, command witnessed a police officer emerge from the front of the house and reported that roofing material was falling on him as he evacuated. The incident commander moved to the rear of the house, where another police officer was preparing to kick in a door, and again instructed them not to do so and directed them to get everyone out.

Incident command instructed crews that victims were reported to be inside and to apply water to the fire as quickly as possible. Crews deployed a hand line and made entry from the front of the house. They found the body of a deceased victim on a couch near the entrance, then continued searching until they reached a rear bedroom, where they found a second victim on a bed, still breathing. Crews evacuated the second victim, who was then transported to the hospital.

Crews informed incident command of the location of the deceased victim and returned to the structure to assure that hotspots were completely extinguished. One firefighter was sent to the hospital for evaluation of smoke inhalation.

Investigators determined that the fire started when a cigarette ignited the fabric of an upholstered sofa in the living room. The investigators cited sleep and physical impairment as factors that potentially contributed to the incident.

Fire department reports indicated that one police officer experienced severe burn and smoke inhalation injuries, and that three additional officers experienced moderate smoke inhalation injuries. According to newspaper reports, two police officers entered the building while awaiting the arrival of firefighters because they knew there were occupants inside, but became disoriented by thick black smoke. One of the two was able to escape when police officers breached the back door. The second officer was apparently evacuated by fire department personnel.

News reports indicated that the occupant evacuated by firefighters succumbed to injuries in the hospital several days after the fire.

The house was a single-story structure with a ground floor area of 850 square feet (79 square meters). The house was equipped with operational battery-operated smoke alarms.

The fire caused an estimated $60,000 in damage to the house, valued at $150,000. The contents of the house, with an estimated value of $5,000, were determined to be a total loss.


Lightning strike ignites dorm fire

An early morning fire that forced the evacuation of a college dormitory was blamed on a lightning strike to the roof of the four-story structure.

Firefighters were dispatched by a 911 call after employees of a neighboring business spotted the fire at 5 a.m. Upon arrival, firefighters reported that a building evacuation was underway and that a cupola on the dormitory roof was fully involved with fire. No fire was seen in a second building connected to the dormitory, although high winds were responsible for rapid fire spread.

Incident command ordered a fire attack with two aerial ladders and a deck gun, while also ordering crews to initiate a search of both buildings. Crews determined the buildings to be fully evacuated upon completion of the search.

As fire attack began, one of the aerial ladders was able to partially knock down the fire and slow its progress, but the second ladder was initially unable to operate due to a rigger failure, while the deck gun was largely ineffective due to the height of the building and the strong winds. A determination was made to attempt an interior attack through the ceiling of the fourth floor.

Crews dropped ropes from the fourth floor windows and pulled two hand lines up the side of the building in preparation for fire attack. However, access to the attic space was slowed by the need to breach several layers of construction material, and crews were ordered out of the building when it became clear that the fire had progressed to a point where an interior attack was unsafe.

After crews were able to bring the failed aerial ladder into operation, it was relocated to a parking lot at the side of the building and began attacking the fire from that location. The two master streams were able knock down the majority of the fire, but several small fires continued to burn under portions of a slate roof, and crews returned to the fourth floor to complete extinguishment after the master streams were shut down.

Efforts to breach the ceiling required the rotation of several crews equipped with pike poles and chainsaws. Difficult access to several spots required the crews to again exit the structure and the ladder streams were returned to use. The ladders were able to extinguish the remaining fire, allowing relief crews to access the fourth floor for final overhaul.

Six firefighters suffered strain injuries while fighting the fire.

After extinguishment, investigators identified heavy charring of structural support members at the base of roof rafters in one corner of the building, with heavy fire damage to the gable overhang soffit area. They determined that fire was caused by a lightning strike during severe thunderstorms that passed through the area. Although the dormitory was equipped with a wet-pipe sprinkler system and hard-wired smoke detectors connected to a central station alarm monitoring company, the fire originated in an area above the equipment, and investigators believe that the fire was ignited up to four hours before it was detected. Overhead heat eventually caused six sprinklers to begin operating.

The dormitory was constructed with a heavy timber frame covered by a brick exterior, with wood floor and roof framing, as well as a wood roof deck. The building occupied a ground floor area of 9,600 square feet (892 square meters).

The fire caused an estimated $500,000 in damage to the building, valued at $1 million, and an additional $300,000 in damage to contents, valued at $500,000.


Plug adaptor blamed for fatal fire

An elderly man with a mobility disability died in an overnight fire that started when heat from a multi-plug adaptor ignited combustibles laying nearby, with fire then spreading to furnishings and room contents.

The fire department was summoned to the scene when a neighbor spotted the fire and called 911 at 3 a.m. According to newspaper reports, firefighters observed light smoke upon arrival and found the victim in the living room. He was pronounced dead at the scene. The news reports indicated that the fire was limited to the living room.

The fire department indicated that heat from the multi-plug adaptor ignited ordinary combustibles, but no other information on the ignition sequence was available.

The house was a single-story wood frame construction with a ground floor area of 800 square feet (74 square meters). It was not equipped with automatic detection alarms or a sprinkler system.

Damage to the structure, collectively valued at $64,000, was estimated at $30,000.


Multiple casualties in fire ignited by smoking materials and home oxygen

Three people died and five were injured in an early morning apartment complex fire that began when smoking materials ignited bed linens. The fire was exacerbated by the use of home oxygen.

Firefighters were dispatched to the scene at 1:15 a.m. after an occupant called 911. Crews were informed by dispatch while en route that flames were coming from the roof of the structure. Dispatch was then asked to call a second alarm.

On arrival, crews reported that the entire front of a two-story, 10-unit apartment building was involved with heavy smoke and fire. Police at the scene informed crews that residents were evacuating through windows at the rear of the structure.

Crews pulled a hose line and began securing a water supply for incoming units. After a walk-around of the structure by incident command, the crew from the first-arriving engine was informed that multiple rescues needed to be performed at the rear, where residents were jumping from first and second floor windows. Incident command issued a request for additional resources to report to the scene.

As crews carried ladders to the rear of the structure, a ladder company set up an elevated master stream for fire attack at the front and began to sweep the building to knock down the main body of fire. Firefighters working with evacuated residents began moving them away from the structure to a parking lot, where paramedics established a triage for injury victims.

When conditions permitted entry, a search team began a primary search of apartment units on the first floor, working its way to the second floor after finding no victims. The team discovered a deceased victim in one of the second floor units at the side of the building. A second victim was found on a secondary search of the first floor by a newly arriving search team.

All crews started extinguishing hot spots and began overhaul of the structure while medical personnel treated injury victims and began transporting them to the hospital.

Reports indicated that two residents suffered fatal smoke inhalation injuries and that a third died as a result of trauma. It is not clear if the third victim died at the scene or at the hospital. Five other residents experienced unspecified non-fatal injuries.

Investigators determined that the fire started in a first floor apartment in the center of the building, where a resident fell asleep while smoking in bed while using an oxygen concentrator. The victim woke up after bed linens caught fire. The fire then spread to the floor, igniting other combustibles.

Fire department reports indicated that all units in the building were equipped with automatic detection equipment, which newspaper reports indicated were battery-operated smoke alarms. The fire department did not know whether the alarms were operational.

The building was a wood structure that occupied a ground floor area of 2,400 square feet (223 square meters).

The fire caused an estimated $450,000 in damage to the building and contents.


Resident dies in fire ignited by kitchen stove

The lone occupant of a single-family home died in an early morning fire that began in the kitchen when a stove ignited combustible materials.

Firefighters responded after neighbors detected the fire at 1:42 a.m. and called 911. While en route, crews were informed by dispatch that the neighbors could hear the resident inside the structure and were trying to get him out. The house was described as fully involved with fire.

The first-arriving units reached the scene six minutes after the 911 call and were approached by bystanders that an adult and possibly two children were inside the home. Incident command conducted a 360 degree size-up of the site and heavy fire involvement at the rear and one side of the house, with heavy flames breaching the windows.

Crews from an engine company pulled a hose and began attacking the fire at the rear of the house using water from a tanker while a hydrant line was established for water supply. A second crew advanced a hand line to the front door of the home to make entry and begin a primary search. Meanwhile, a newly arriving engine company began to attack the fire from the side of the house.

As crews made progress with extinguishment at the rear of the structure, two firefighters made entry to the home through a window at a rear corner, focusing on the bedrooms and moving to the area of fire involvement. Firefighters located a male victim in the bathroom. Crews reported that the victim was deceased, with no apparent thermal injuries. A secondary search, which was conducted by the team entering through the front of the house, found no further victims. Newspaper reports indicated that no other residents were inside the house at the time of the fire.

Investigators determined that the kitchen stove was operating at the time of the fire and ignited unspecified combustible materials. No signs of automatic detection equipment were found in the structure during the investigation.

The home was a single-story wood structure with an attached garage. The house and garage together occupied an area of 2,320 square feet (215 square meters). The house and its contents, collectively valued at $90,000, were a total loss.



Sprinklers extinguish power plant fire blamed on spontaneous ignition

An automatic sprinkler system extinguished a fire at an energy generating plant after coal stored in a bunker self-heated to the point of spontaneous ignition.

The fire department was dispatched to the plant following a fire alarm activation at 1:40 p.m. Upon arrival, firefighters reported an evacuation in progress and no visible smoke or fire. A fire attack crew was sent to the seventh floor of the plant and found that four ceiling-mounted automatic sprinklers had activated over a coal bunker where the fire originated. The crew extinguished a small smoldering pile of coal dust near the bunker and the fire was declared out.

The power plant was a coal-fueled electric power plant comprised of a number of large structures and pieces of equipment.

Investigators determined that the fire originated in a coal bunker, where coal that had been exposed to moisture from a recent winter storm had undergone an exothermic reaction, generating a significant amount of heat in the storage environment. When employees investigating a carbon monoxide alarm opened the access lid above the bunker, outside air entered the bunker’s heated and oxygen-deficient atmosphere, allowing suspended coal dust in the bunker to undergo a process of rapid combustion that produced a flash fire.

The local fire department noted that a fire protection system, including automatic alarms and sprinklers, was present throughout the facility. However, investigators also expressed concerns to plant management that carbon monoxide detectors, whose local alarms provided the initial warning of a problem to plant personnel, were not monitored by the automatic system.

No estimates were available on the economic losses resulting from the fire.



Engine in cabinet shop blamed for fire that caused extensive damage

Wind blowing through an open door contributed to the rapic spread of an afternoon fire that originated in an engine inside a cabinet manufacturing shop.

An employee checking on a motor in the shop’s engine room spotted the fire and called 911 at 1:29 p.m.

The shop was located in a rural area approximately 150 to 200 yards from the nearest road. Fire department vehicles, including engines and water tankers, were forced to negotiate a single lane of muddy terrain to access the structure. Firefighters reported that the difficulties encountered with accessing the property slowed fire department response.

Newspapers reported that crews from at least nine fire protection districts responded to the fire, which took an hour and a half to bring under control.

Investigators determined that the fire was caused by an unspecified mechanical failure on an engine that was used to power the shop’s equipment. As the fire grew, it caused a diesel fuel tank to rupture, further fueling the flame spread. Investigators noted that wind speeds of 20 to 30 miles an hour on the day of the fire, as well as the presence of a number of other combustible materials inside the shop, contributed to the rapid growth of the fire.

An employee retrieved a fire extinguisher after spotting the engine on fire, but all occupants were able to evacuate the facility as the fire quickly grew. No injuries were reported.

The building was a single-story structure occupying a ground floor area of 3,600 square feet (334 square meters). It was constructed with a wood frame, metal walls, and metal roof cover. The floor was concrete. The building was not equipped with either a sprinkler system or automatic detection equipment.

The fire caused $500,000 in damage to the building, valued at $750,000, and an additional $275,000 in damage to its contents, which was estimated at $500,000.

Public Assembly


Welding torch ignites blaze during construction work at concert venue

Fire broke out at a concert venue that was closed for the night after a welding torch ignited unspecified materials in the ceiling during construction work.

Firefighters were dispatched to the scene by an automatic fire alarm at 7:47 p.m. A passerby called 911 to report the fire at approximately the same time.

Crews were on the scene within two minutes of notification, but fire department reports indicated that the flames spread quickly across the ceiling and throughout the structure. According to newspaper coverage, crews fought the fire for nearly six hours before it was brought under control. The reports also indicated that concerns about the severity of structural damage from the fire required the subsequent closure of adjacent businesses pending inspection by a structural engineer.

Investigators indicated that the fire started at the ceiling level where a worker was using a welding torch to install a piece of lighting equipment. The welding arc ignited ceiling materials, followed by rapid fire spread.

The building was equipped with an automatic sprinkler system, but fire department reports indicated that it was overpowered by the fire.

The building was a three-story structure with a ground floor area of about 4,500 square feet (418 square meters). The walls were constructed with brick and concrete and the roof consisted of a wood and metal truss frame covered by built-up tar and gravel.

No cost estimates of the damage were available, but media reports indicated that the building was totally gutted and that property records placed its market value at close to $1 million.


North Dakota

Fire in recreational vehicle kills one, injures a second

One person died and a second person was injured by a fire that occurred in a recreational vehicle. Investigators believe the fire was ignited by a propane heater.

The fire department was dispatched to the scene after the occupants woke to find the front half of the vehicle fully involved with flames and called 911.

According to fire department reports, male and female occupants, in addition to multiple dogs, were sleeping at the rear of the vehicle, which was parked for the night in a truck stop parking lot. The occupants were using a small propane heater to keep warm. After being wakened by the fire, the male occupant assisted the female in escaping the vehicle through a side emergency exit window. He then returned to the burning vehicle to attempt to rescue a dog, where he was overcome by smoke and collapsed.

The male occupant succumbed to smoke inhalation injuries, while the female suffered non-fatal burn injuries.

Investigators believe that the fire started when one of the dogs tipped over the propane heater while the occupants were sleeping. The fire department indicated that the vehicle contained a substantial fuel load of clothes, boxes, and other belongings.

The vehicle and its contents, valued at $15,000, were a total loss.



Brush fire blamed on ignition by a sky lantern

Firefighters responded to an early evening brush fire at a county park after a sky lantern landed in an open prairie area and ignited dry grass.

The fire department was dispatched at 7 p.m. by phone calls from the scene, which media accounts indicated was the site of a candlelight hike. One of the participants released the sky lantern, and fire began and quickly spread when the lantern came down. The fire department reported that strong winds and dry grass conditions contributed to a rapid spread of the fire.

Firefighters arrived at the scene 10 minutes after being dispatched. According to newspaper accounts, multiple fire departments responded to the blaze, which burned for approximately one hour before it was extinguished. Access to the fire was said to be complicated by its location, approximately one mile from the roadway. The fire department estimated that the fire burned approximately 20 acres of parkland.

Newspaper reports of the fire noted that the National Fire Protection Association has issued warnings to consumers about the hazards associated with sky lanterns, also known as fire lanterns.

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: AP/Wide World