Restaurant fire spreads in concealed spaces
NEW JERSEY — A fire that started in the mechanical room over a restaurant spread through the common roof assembly to additional occupancies in the building, destroying the structure.
In addition to the restaurant, the one-story, wood-frame building, which covered an area of approxi-mately 5,700 square feet (530 square meters), contained four other businesses, including a hair salon and a music store. The building had a common roof, and its interior walls were made of plaster and lath. It had no sprinklers or fire detection equipment, and there were no fire separations.
The fire department received a 911 call at 3:32 p.m. reporting smoke in the building. Police arrived on the scene before the firefighters and notified the fire department that the smoke was coming from the restaurant.
Four minutes later, fire crews arrived and forced open the front door of the restaurant to find smoke up near the ceiling in the kitchen and banking down in the dining room. Upon further investigation, they found the fire above the bathrooms in the rear of the dining room. When they opened up the ceiling, they discovered fire spreading in all directions.
As interior crews tried to suppress the fire inside, additional crews began vertical ventilation. However, conditions continued to deteriorate as the fire burned through the roof, and the incident commander ordered a switch to defensive operations.
Investigators determined that the fire started above the bathrooms near the dining room, where a gas-fired hot water heater, fans, electrical extension cords, a small gas-fired furnace, and an air conditioning unit were located. However, they could not identify the cause of the blaze.
The fire destroyed the building, valued at more than $1.25 million, and its contents, valued at approximately $250,000. No one was injured.
Nursing home visitor dies while making methamphetamine
OHIO — A 31-year-old man was killed while making methamphetamine in a nursing home when a glass jar containing light petroleum distillate broke, spilling burning liquid onto the victim and onto combustible materials in the room he was visiting. The resulting fire triggered the nursing home’s sprinkler and fire alarm system. Two sprinklers confined the fire to the room of origin.
The two-story, skilled nursing facility covered an area of 11,300 square feet (1,050 square meters) per floor.
An older section had masonry brick and block walls with a wood-frame roof and interior partitions. A newer wood-frame addition was drywalled. The property was protected by a wet-pipe sprinkler system and a fire alarm system.
The victim and one other visitor in a second-floor resident’s room in the older section of the building were making methamphetamine using a one-cup process. The victim was sitting in a folding lawn chair while he heated the glass jar containing the petroleum distillate when the vapors from the container ignited, breaking the jar and creating a fireball, which caused his death. The other two occupants of the room evacuated.
The alarm company called the fire department to report a fire alarm activation at 8:36 p.m. When fire crews arrived three minutes later, several people told them that there was a fire on the second floor. The fire officer ordered additional equipment to the scene, including several ambulances, before entering the nursing home. Staff members were helping patients leave the area as firefighters entered.
After systematically searching the second floor, fire crews discovered that two sprinklers had activated and prevented the fire from spreading beyond the room of origin.
Investigators found evidence consistent with the illegal manufacture of methamphetamine, including several over-the-counter items available at any drug or hardware store, and determined that the point of origin was the glass container being heated by the victim. Tests of the remaining contents revealed the jar contained camp stove fuel and lighter fluid.
In addition to the victim, three nursing home residents, including the one in the room of origin, suffered from smoke inhalation. The second visitor was also believed to have been injured, but he left the scene. Two staffers were also treated at the hospital.
The building, which had an assessed value of $734,000, sustained roughly $50,000 in damage.
Man dies in house fire
MINNESOTA — A 64-year-old man died of acute carbon monoxide poisoning in an early morning fire that began in the living room of his single-family home.
The two-an-a-half story, balloon-style, wood-frame house covered an area of approximately 1,700 square feet (158 square meters). A fire department report noted that the house had smoke detectors but not how many or whether they were operational.
Firefighters received the alarm at 3:25 a.m. and arrived four minutes later to find heavy smoke showing from all levels and flames coming from a second-floor window. When neighbors told them that an older man lived alone in the house, crews began an aggressive interior attack, but they were forced to retreat when the floor became unstable. Instead, they used ground ladders to advance pre-connected hose lines over the front porch and into the second floor.
Firefighters entered the living room through a picture window and found the victim’s body near a recliner in which relatives reported he spent most of his days and often most of the night. The living room was separated from the rest of the house by pocket doors, which were closed at the time of the fire, confining the blaze to the room until enough heat built up to burn through the room’s floor, walls, and ceiling.
Although investigators found several potential ignition sources, including electrical extension cords, portable heaters, candles, and smoking materials, they could not determine the ignition source.
Damage to the house and its contents was estimated at $200,000.
Portable heater starts fatal fire
ARKANSAS — A 60-year-old man died in a fire that started in the living room of his single-family home when a portable electric heater ignited magazines or newspapers.
The single-story house, which measured 35 feet (11 meters) by 24 feet (7 meters), was not sprinklered, and the fire department could not determine whether smoke alarms had been installed. The house had no rear exit.
Firefighters arriving at the scene three minutes after receiving a 911 call at 1:15 a.m. found the house fully involved. Although neighbors told them that the man was probably still inside, firefighters had to knock down the heavy fire before they could begin searching for him. They discovered the victim’s body on the floor of a bathroom and removed it from the house.
Investigators determined that the heater ignited the magazines or newspapers in the living room and that the fire spread to nearby combustibles.
The house, valued at $25,000, and its contents, valued at $1,000, were completely destroyed.
Older couple dies in house fire
NEW JERSEY — A 75-year-old man died of smoke inhalation and a 68-year-old woman died of smoke inhalation and burns in an early morning fire that raced through their single-family home while they slept.
The split-level, wood-frame house had four separate levels, all accessible from an open central stairwell. A fire alarm system provided coverage in the common areas, but another occupant, who owned the property, had shut it off before the fire began. There were no sprinklers.
The fire department received the alarm at 1:53 a.m. from the homeowner, who had managed to escape and call 911 from a neighbor’s house. Firefighters arrived five minutes later to find flames venting from a front window on the first floor and heavy smoke coming from vents on the first and second floors.
The incident commander ordered an initial attack using the deck gun of the engine to knock down the fire from the exterior, while fire crews advanced a 134-inch hose line through the front door. At about the same time, bystanders told firefighters that the man and woman might still be inside the house, so a ladder company entered the second floor to begin searching for them. About 30 minutes after they arrived, firefighters found the two victims.
Investigators determined that the fire started on the second level of the house, which was being used as a living room. They could not determine the ignition sequence, but the fire spread vertically and horizontally throughout the home.
The house, valued at $300,000, and its contents, valued at $100,000, sustained losses of $125,000 and $50,000, respectively. One firefighter was injured during extinguishment.
Two die of smoke inhalation in residential fire
ILLINOIS — Two young women, ages 19 and 21, died as a result of an early morning fire in their second-floor apartment in a converted single-family house.
The ground floor of the unsprinklered, wood-frame building covered approximately 1,800 square feet (167 square meters). Firefighters did not hear any smoke alarms sounding when they arrived at the scene, and it was later discovered that a battery-operated smoke detector in the room of origin had an outdated battery. A smoke alarm in the other bedroom in the unit had no battery. The apartment in which the victims lived had a secondary exterior exit to a metal staircase at the back of the building.
A neighbor discovered the fire when he awoke to the sound of breaking glass and saw an orange glow in his room. Looking out the window, he saw flames coming from the broken window in the womens’ house, which was 15 feet (4.5 meters) away, and called 911 at 3:42 a.m.
Arriving firefighters found heavy smoke coming from the eaves and flames shooting from from a second-floor window. They advanced a hose line to the front door until an officer doing a walk-around found the exterior staircase to the upper floor and called for the line to be relocated to that staircase.
Two firefighters searching for victims in the upstairs apartment found one woman lying face down, unconscious, on the floor just inside the doorway of a bedroom with second- and third-degree burns over 45 percent of her body. They carried her down the rear staircase to waiting paramedics, then returned to search for the second victim, whom they found sitting against a bed in the same room. She, too, was unconscious.
Both victims were treated in a hyperbaric chamber but died of their injuries the next day. Alcohol may have played a role in the fatalities: one victim had a blood alcohol level of 0.18, while the other’s level was less than 0.10.
Although investigators determined that the fire started in a bedroom near a bed and closet, they were unable to pinpoint the cause.
The fire did $40,000 in damage to the house, which was valued at $130,000, and $10,000 in damage to its contents, valued at $30,000.
Homeowner dies trying to extinguish fire
CONNECTUCUT — A 52-year-old man died of an apparent heart attack after extinguishing a fire in an electrical outlet in the living room of his single-family home.
The two-story, wood-frame house, which was 30 feet (9 meters) wide and 30 feet (9 meters) long, had no smoke alarms or sprinklers.
The man’s wife called 911 at 6:32 p.m. to report a medical emergency and fire at their home. When firefighters arrived at the scene, they began medical care.
Investigators found a power strip partially plugged into a wall outlet that had caught fire. The plug end of the power strip had melted and charred, but there was little other damage.
With the help of the local building inspector, investigators determined that the fire was caused by poor electrical wiring, the use of oversized fuses, and the failure to plug the power strip all the way into the outlet. Other problems with the wiring, unrelated to the fire, were also discovered.
The house, valued at $142,000, sustained $1,000 in damage. The victim’s wife was not injured.
Sprinklers extinguish fire caused by careless smoking
BRITISH COLUMBIA — Two sprinklers extinguished a fire that began when a woman fell asleep in her apartment while smoking in bed after taking prescribed medication and consuming alcohol.
The three-story, 26-unit, wood-frame apartment building, which measured 128 feet (39 meters) by 50 feet (15 meters), had a roof covered by tar and gravel. A wet-pipe sprinkler system monitored by an alarm monitoring company provided coverage in the living areas, and each apartment was equipped with local battery-operated smoke alarms. The occupant was unsure whether any smoke alarms in her unit sounded.
Firefighters received calls from the fire alarm monitoring company at 9:14 p.m. By the time they arrived, however, the sprinklers had already extinguished the blaze. Fire alarms in the building were sounding when firefighters arrived.
When investigators spoke to the apartment’s occupant, she reported that she had been drinking alcohol after taking her prescribed medication. She fell asleep while smoking in bed and watching television, saying that she last remembered a show that had been broadcast three to four hours before she awoke to the smell of smoke.
As she left her apartment, she reported that the sprinklers activated and she heard the smoke detectors in the common hallway operating.
The investigators determined that the fire started when a lit cigarette ignited the bedcovers and that alcohol consumption and medication were contributing factors.
The building, valued at $1.5 million, sustained damages estimated at $8,000. The woman suffered minor smoke inhalation injuries.
A fire department spokesman noted that, “since 1996, this [was] the fourth time there has been a fire extinguished by the sprinkler system in this building, greatly reducing the property loss, and ... the potential loss of life.”
Sprinkler extinguishes unattended cooking fire
MINNESOTA — A single sprinkler extinguished an apartment fire that started when the occupant left a pan of oil heating unattended on the stove.
The apartment was in a 12-unit, wood-frame building that covered an area of approximately 25,000 square feet (2,323 square meters). Each apartment was protected by local smoke alarms connected to a building fire alarm system, as well as a monitored wet-pipe sprinkler system. A dry-pipe system had been installed in the attic.
The alarm monitoring company notified the fire department of the water flow alarm at 6:05 p.m., and firefighters arrived at the scene seven minutes later to find light smoke inside the building. Once inside the apartment of origin, they discovered that sprinklers had already extinguished the fire.
The apartment’s occupant told investigators that he had put a pan of oil on the stove and turned the burner on high before he went to watch a video in another room. When he noticed that the pan was on fire, he moved the pan to the sink and tried to douse the flames with salt. As he did so, the sprinkler activated and extinguished the blaze.
Fire damage was limited to the kitchen cabinets, although there was smoke damage throughout the apartment. The building, which was valued at $1 million, sustained $10,000 in damage. The contents of the apartment of origin, valued at $10,000, sustained an estimated $5,000 in damage. There were no injuries.
Overheated extension cord starts fatal fire
GEORGIA — A 70-year-old woman died of smoke inhalation when she was unable to escape from a fire in her single-family home. A neighbor called 911 to report the fire at 7:19 p.m.
The single-story, wood-frame house had no sprinklers. There was a battery-operated smoke alarm in the living room, but it had no battery.
Investigators learned that the victim used an outdoor-type, orange electrical extension cord to power a portable heater in another room. The cord, which was covered by clothing, overheated and ignited the clothes. The fire then spread to the bed and other nearby combustibles.
The house, valued at $70,000, sustained $50,000 in damage. Its contents, valued at $30,000, sustained damage estimated at $15,000.
Sprinkler extinguishes dwelling garage fire
ARIZONA — A single sprinkler extinguished a fire that investigators believe started when a child’s plastic table ignited in the first-floor garage of a single-family home.
The one-story, wood-frame house had smoke alarms and an NFPA 13D wet-pipe sprinkler system that provided coverage in all the living areas and the garage.
The fire department received the alarm at 11:52 a.m., and firefighters responded to find smoke coming from the garage. The fire had already been extinguished by one sprinkler head. They checked the attic for fire extension and found none.
The child’s 19-year-old sister told investigators that she heard the sprinkler flow alarm go off, looked in the garage, and saw that it was full of black smoke. She then saw that the toy table had melted and moved it outside into the yard.
The house, valued at $150,000, and its contents, valued at $50,000, sustained losses estimated at $100.
Sprinkler extinguishes fire in trash chute
OREGON — A sprinkler limited fire damage to a university apartment building when it extinguished a fire that started between the second and third floors when smoking materials were thrown down a garbage chute.
The high-rise building, which was of steel and concrete construction, had a smoke detection system, and the trash chute was protected by a dry-pipe sprinkler system. Both systems operated as designed.
Firefighters responded to a fire alarm activation at 2:06 a.m. and arrived four minutes later to find a single sprinkler operating in the chute on the second floor. Smoke from the smoldering fire had filled the chute, which was full of trash from the first to the third floors, and banked down at the tenth floor, where smoke was at chest level.
Investigators determined that the fire began when smoking material were thrown into the garbage chute.
The building, valued at almost $45 million, had structural damage estimated at $5,000. There were no injuries.
Solar panels malfunction
MASSACHUSETTS — An electrical junction box for a solar panel array on the roof of an elementary school malfunctioned and ignited, starting a fire that spread to nearby roof materials over an area approximately 8 feet (2 meters) by 8 feet (2 meters). A passerby spotted the fire and called the fire department at 12:30 p.m. The fire took place on a weekend when school was not in session.
The two-story, steel-frame building had masonry walls and a metal deck roof covered with a rubber roof membrane. The school was protected by a full-coverage, wet-pipe sprinkler system and fire alarm system, but neither operated because the fire was on the exterior of the building.
Investigators could not determine the cause of the malfunction in the junction box.
Damage to the building was estimated at $30,000.
Sprinkler extinguishes fire started by oily rags
CALIFORNIA — A commercial building that was closed for the night was spared significant damage when a sprinkler extinguished a fire that started when oily rags stored in a 55-gallon (208-liter) metal barrel chemically reacted with the air and spontaneously ignited.
The single-story, wood-frame building was divided by a firewall into two separate occupancies, one of which contained a business that turned reclaimed restaurant grease into biofuel. This occupancy included a warehouse covering an area of 5,000 square feet (465 square meters). The property was protected by a monitored wet-pipe sprinkler system.
Firefighters were notified of a water flow alarm at 7:44 p.m. and arrived five minutes later. They were admitted to the building by the owner of the adjacent business. Upon entry, they saw light smoke and discovered that one sprinkler had already extinguished a fire in the storage and processing section of the biofuel warehouse.
Burn patterns led to a 55-gallon (208-liter) drum in which oily rags were stored. Investigators concluded that the rags had ignited spontaneously and that the heat activated the sprinkler overhead.
The building, valued at $500,000, sustained $20,000 worth of damage. Its contents, valued at $100,000, sustained a $10,000 loss.
Four hurt in flash fire
OKLAHOMA — Four employees were burned in a flash fire that occurred as they repaired equipment in a two-
story plant that powder-coated pipes.
The steel-frame building, the walls and roof of which were corrugated metal panels, had a sprinkler system, but coverage was not reported.
The powder-coating process involved heating metal pipes in large, gas-fired ovens, then injecting polymer powder to coat the inside of the heated pipes.
During the process, a foreign object interrupted the flow of powder from an elevated hopper to a pump used to break the polymer into a cloud for injection into metal pipes. The equipment was shut down, and employees began trying to clear the obstruction. However, powder flowed into the room after the equipment was unintentionally disconnected, letting the polymer flow freely and grow into a polymer dust cloud. The cloud ignited when it reached a kerosene-fueled salamander space heater. The flash fire, which did not create enough heat to trigger overhead sprinklers, self-extinguished almost immediately, but not before burning four employees.
Neither the value of the structure and its contents nor the estimated losses were reported.
Fire in concealed space
TEXAS — Contractors working in an office building bathroom started a fire in a wall void when hot metal debris from their grinding operation ignited drywall in the bathroom wall.
The fire occurred on the ninth floor of a steel-frame office building constructed of reinforced concrete. The ground floor covered approximately 80,000 square feet (7,432 square meters). The building had a fire alarm system that provided smoke detectors in hallways, as well as manual pull stations and notification devices, but coverage was not complete. No fire alarms were in the fire area.
The contractors reported the fire at 2:38 p.m. Arriving firefighters noted smoke on the top floor and found the fire in the bathroom wall void.
The fire damaged drywall and structural beams. The building and its contents, valued at just over $4 million, sustained $3,000 worth of damage.
Two homeless men die in storage shed fire
NORTH CAROLINA — Two homeless men, ages 64 and 65, died of smoke inhalation as a result of a fire in a storage shed in which they were sheltering.
The wood-frame shed, which measured 16 feet (5 meters) by 24 feet (7 meters), had a wooden roof covered by asphalt shingles and was located in a manufactured home development. It had no smoke alarms or sprinklers.
A fire department EMT returning to his station from a call noticed the fire and called in the alarm at 8 p.m. Responding firefighters quickly controlled the fire and discovered the two victims.
Investigators noted that the floor of the structure, in which the two men were living illegally, was covered up to approximately 3 feet (1 meter) with a collection of items the men had accumulated, significantly limiting access to the interior. The investigators determined that the fire was unintentional, but because there were so many possible ignition sources, they could not identify a specific cause.
The fire destroyed the structure, valued at $6,600, and its contents, valued at $1,000.