Author(s): Richard Campbell. Published on May 1, 2018.


Fire incidents from across the country




Fireplace causes blaze that claims life of resident

A man with a mobility disability died in an early morning house fire that began when heat from the home’s fireplace ignited structural wood joists and spread throughout the home.

The fire department was dispatched by a report of a house fire with entrapment after a neighbor called 911 at 2:40 a.m. The fire chief was first to arrive at the scene, where a tri-level house was showing heavy fire involvement on the second floor. The 911 caller met the chief and reported that his friend was inside the house on the lower level. Crews from an engine company arrived and were ordered to stretch an attack line to the corner of the house where the occupant was believed to be.

As crews breached windows in preparation for a rescue effort, a portion of the house collapsed into the lower level and the victim’s room became involved in fire. Incident command determined that the fire was not survivable and that it would be necessary to mount a defensive operation.

With the arrival of two additional engine companies, crews stretched lines and began attacking the fire from three sides. The fire was declared under control at 3:26 a.m. The body of the resident was found under the collapsed portion of the second floor and was left in place for transport to the morgue by the medical examiner.

Investigators determined that the resident was using his fireplace as a primary heating source and that conducted heat from the fire was able to ignite structural joists through gaps in the fireplace mortar.

The home was not equipped with smoke alarms or an automatic extinguishing system.

The house was a wood construction with asphalt shingles and occupied a ground floor area of 1,664 square feet (155 square meters).

The home and its contents, together valued at $125,000, were a total loss.


Man injured when electronic cigarette battery pack explodes

Firefighters responded to a hotel in the early morning hours after an electronic cigarette battery pack exploded in a guest room, igniting a fire on the carpet and activating the hotel’s alarm system.

The fire department was dispatched at 3 a.m. after the alarm signal was received by the dispatch center. Crews found that the resident of the guest room, located on the hotel’s fifth floor, suffered burns on his left hand. The fire had been extinguished and was not large enough to activate the hotel’s sprinkler system.

News reports indicated that the battery pack exploded while it was being charged and that the guest’s injuries were treated at the scene.

No information was available on dollar losses from the fire.


Man suffers fatal burns lighting cigarette while using medical oxygen

An elderly man suffered fatal burn injuries after attempting to light a cigarette while on home oxygen.

Firefighters responded to a 911 call from the victim’s residence at 12:52 p.m. While en route, crews were informed that a medic at the scene reported moderate smoke conditions inside the residence and a male victim with second– and third–degree burns. The medic requested arrangement of a medical flight to transport the victim from a local medical center to a major hospital.

On arrival, crews found the medic transferring the victim to the ambulance for transport to the local medical center.

Crews reported charring on the living room floor but no active fire inside the house. Firefighters ventilated the house and contacted the state fire marshal.

The investigation determined that the victim was sitting on a recliner and using home oxygen when he attempted to light a cigarette with a lighter. His clothing ignited, as did the oxygen tubing attached to his nostrils. The victim ran to the sink to extinguish the fire. A family member who came downstairs to investigate after hearing his screams called 911, removed the victim’s burning clothing, and detached the still-burning oxygen line from the unit.

The patient died in the hospital from burn injuries to his face, chest, and arms.

The state fire marshal emphasized in a newspaper account of the incident that there is no safe way to smoke when using home oxygen and warned against the use of candles, matches, or other sources of ignition in the presence of medical oxygen.


Faulty wiring blamed for house fire that kills three

A late-night house fire claimed the lives of three occupants and injured four firefighters.

Firefighters responding to a reported structure fire at 11:30 p.m. arrived on the scene to find a three-story house fully involved with flames, and police officers restraining people from trying to enter the house. Crews were informed that three occupants were still inside the home.

Firefighters from an engine company pulled a line and tried to make entry through the front door, while crews with a second line made entry through the kitchen at the rear of the house. Back-up crews were sent to the front and rear entrances. The intensity of fire conditions led incident command to call for a second alarm, followed shortly afterwards by a third alarm.

The interior crews at the front of the house found two occupants on the floor at the bottom of the stairway. A third victim was found at the top of the stairs, where she had apparently been overcome by smoke. Firefighters were reportedly threatened by fire as they transported the victims outside.

According to news reports, it took just over an hour before crews were able to bring the fire under control. Three of the injured firefighters suffered burn injuries, and the fourth suffered a knee injury. No information was available on the severity of the firefighter injuries.

Investigators determined that the fire began in the basement when faulty electrical wiring ignited the home’s wood frame. The fire was able to quickly spread up the walls and into the attic because of the home’s balloon-frame-style construction.

The house was not equipped with smoke alarms or automatic extinguishing equipment.

The house occupied a ground floor area of 800 square feet (74 square meters). The house and contents, together valued at $10,600, were a total loss.


Estimated $1 million loss in fire blamed on discarded cigarette

A discarded cigarette on an exterior porch was blamed for starting a fire that caused an estimated $1 million damage to a 16-unit apartment building.

Firefighters were dispatched to the scene after a building resident was wakened by the smell of smoke and called 911 at 5:48 a.m. After calling 911, the resident who detected the fire pulled a local fire alarm inside the building. Newspapers reported that all 20 residents were able to safely evacuate the building.

According to newspaper accounts, crews mounted an aggressive attack on the fire, but the fire was said to have spread rapidly after reaching the attic. The fire chief attributed the fire’s spread to the absence of firewalls, causing extensive fire and smoke damage throughout the building.

Investigators determined that the fire started after a discarded cigarette ignited a plastic box on an exterior porch. The fire ignited vinyl siding and extended up the siding into the attic. Over 70 firefighters from several departments were eventually involved in fighting the fire.

The apartment building was a two-story structure with a ground floor area of 7,500 square feet (697 square meters). It was constructed with a wood frame and walls and a vinyl siding exterior. A wood roof deck was covered by asphalt shingles.

The building was equipped with interconnected smoke detectors in the hallways and battery-operated smoke alarms in apartment units. Because the smoke was located above the detection system, investigators reported that it did not activate.

The building, valued at $624,000, was a total loss, as were the contents, with an estimated value of $400,000.


Resident dies in house fire started by cooking materials

A female resident died after a kitchen stove gas burner ignited cooking materials in the early morning hours and started a fire that spread through the home.

The fire department was notified of the fire after an occupant called 911 at 3:30 a.m. Most of the house was heavily involved with fire when crews first reached the scene, and operations were said to be difficult due to extreme clutter inside the home.

Newspaper reports indicated that a male resident was able to escape from the home and told firefighters that the victim was still inside. Firefighters evacuated the victim, who was located in a rear bedroom, and began treating her at the scene before transporting her to the hospital, where she later succumbed to smoke inhalation and burn injuries.

Investigators reported that one of the home’s occupants forgot to turn off a surface burner after preparing a meal and that windows in the house had been left open due to warm temperatures. The fire flashed in the kitchen during the overnight hours and spread throughout the small home.

The news accounts reported that the surviving occupant made two attempts to reenter the house but that it was fully engulfed in flames. Two firefighters were said to have suffered unspecified minor injuries battling the fire.

The house was a single-story wood construction with a ground floor area of 600 square feet (56 square meters). The house was not equipped with smoke alarms.

Damage to the house, valued at $200,000, was estimated at $180,000, while damage to the contents was estimated at $3,000.


Sprinkler extinguishes fire started by overheated fan motor

Firefighters responded to a report of a residential structure fire following a 911 call at 3:58 p.m. from one of the home’s occupants.

Upon arrival, firefighters reported smoke showing from a front corner of the house. Crews from an engine company stretched a line to the front door and entered the structure in preparation for fire attack. Inside, they found a significant accumulation of cold smoke and poor visibility in the room of fire origin, where sprinkler and alarm systems were activated.

Firefighters moved furniture from the room while they sought to locate the seat of the fire, which they found to have been extinguished by the sprinkler. Crews removed most of the contents and water from the room, then completed overhaul after investigators finished their documentation of the scene.

The investigation determined that the motor of an oscillating fan on top of a desk had overheated, causing plastic fan blades and housing to melt, igniting other combustibles after dripping onto the floor. Investigators believe that the fire burned for 10 to 15 minutes before it was extinguished by the home’s automatic sprinkler system.

The house was a single-story wood framed structure with a ground floor area of 4,595 square feet (427 square meters).

The fire caused $1,000 in damage to the house and $5,000 in damage to its contents.


House fire blamed on sunlight reflecting off mirror

Investigators traced the cause of a house fire to the reflection of sunlight off a magnifying mirror left on the home’s outdoor deck.

Firefighters were dispatched at 2:30 p.m. following a 911 call by a passerby who saw smoke and heard an alarm sounding.

On arrival, firefighters found moderate smoke conditions with no evident cause on the first floor, but were then able to see fire through a first floor grate to the second floor. Crews stretched a hose line to the second floor to mount a fire attack, assisted by mutual aid companies who stretched a backup line into operation. Incident command assigned a tower company to cut a hole in the roof for vertical ventilation.

Crews finished knocking down the fire by 3:25 p.m. and began overhaul activities.

A team of investigators searching for the cause of the fire determined that it originated at the rear of the house, where a magnifying mirror on the deck reflected sunlight onto the exterior wall.

The house was a two-story structure of wood construction with asphalt shingles and occupied a ground floor area of 1,732 square feet (161 square meters).

No dollar estimates were available on damage from the fire, described in newspaper accounts as extensive.


Sprinkler extinguishes unattended cooking fire

A fire that began in a unit of a 16-unit apartment building was extinguished by an automatic sprinkler system before it could cause extensive damage.

Firefighters were dispatched to the scene after an automatic alarm notified the local 911 center. Crews reported that all occupants were outside the apartment building upon arrival.

In the apartment of fire origin, firefighters found that a sprinkler had activated in the kitchen area and extinguished a fire that began on the electric cooktop and extended to the oven hood upper cabinets. Crews checked the area above the stove for fire extension and assisted with water removal.

Investigators determined that the resident was using cooking oil on the stovetop to cook French fries when he left the kitchen to do laundry. It was unclear how long the burner was on before the oil ignited. The sprinkler system’s water flow alarm alerted occupants to the fire.

The building was protected by a wet-pipe sprinkler system, with an automatic alarm through the 911 center. Smoke alarms were located in the kitchen and bedrooms.

The apartment of fire origin had a ground floor area of 700 square feet (65 square meters).

The building was a two-story structure constructed with brick walls, wood floor and roof framing, and an asphalt shingle roof cover.

The fire caused an estimated $2,000 in damage to the apartment. No contents in the apartment were damaged.


Two die in house fire blamed on electrical cord

An early morning house fire claimed the lives of an elderly woman and her son.

The fire department was dispatched after a neighbor was alerted to the fire at 2:49 a.m. and crews reached the scene at 2:52 a.m.

News reports indicated that smoke was billowing from the home upon arrival and that firefighters pulled the victims from the home 10 minutes later. The female victim, who used a walker to aid a mobility disability, was trapped in a bedroom. Her son was found on the floor at the foot of a bed in another room. Reports indicated that both occupants died as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Investigators indicated that the fire began in a bedroom, where clothing and other materials were piled on top of an extension cord that was plugged into an adapter located in a separate room. The investigators determined that the cord had been damaged by foot traffic and that heat from the cord ignited clothing and then spread to other combustibles. Hoarding conditions were found inside the home.

A smoke alarm inside the home was found to be inoperable.

The house was a single-story structure with a ground floor area of 1,392 square feet (129 square meters). It was constructed with a wood frame and roof deck. The roof was covered with asphalt shingles.

The house and contents, collectively valued at $34,230, were a total loss.


Man dies when discarded cigarette ignites pyrotechnics in home

A massive fire claimed the life of a male resident after discarded smoking materials ignited pyrotechnics inside his home.

A police officer investigating an explosion that he heard while on patrol was first on the scene shortly after 11 p.m., just as several calls were made to 911. The responding officer found a single-story house fully involved with fire and reported that there were several additional explosions as he exited his vehicle. The officer indicated that several neighbors had attempted to access the occupant’s bedroom at one side of the house but were driven back by smoke.

As firefighting crews arrived, flames showed on all sides and the roof, and windows were blown out on two sides of the house. Incident command directed an exterior attack that deployed two handlines and a deck gun and sought to prevent the fire from extending to adjacent structures. Two additional explosions during suppression efforts assisted the fire spread, and there was a complete collapse of the roof during extinguishment.

Once the explosions had stopped, crews secured a ruptured gas line at the side of the structure by turning off the gas valve.

Crews were able to knock down the fire within 15 minutes and had it under control within 24 minutes. After the fire was controlled, crews made an unsuccessful search for the home’s occupant, and an overnight fire watch was posted until the arrival of a fire investigation team in the morning. The day after the fire, the investigation team located the body of the victim under debris in the living room area. The body was removed from the scene for autopsy.

According to informants, the victim had a long history of making fireworks, and investigators searching through the rubble found scores of burned fireworks tubes and several large ammunition cans. Investigators identified a burned blast seat located in front of a fireplace in the living room as the site of the initial explosion. They concluded that the cause of the fire was non-extinguished smoking materials coming in contact with unspent pyrotechnics and that open air provided a ready supply of oxygen for combustion.

News reports indicated that the fire caused unspecified damage to an unattached garage and a neighboring store.

The house was made of wood construction with a ground floor area of 1,040 square feet (97 square meters).

The house and contents, together valued at $95,000, were a total loss.


Sprinkler extinguishes apartment fire started by candle

A fire in a unit in an apartment complex was controlled by an automatic sprinkler, resulting in minimal damage to the building and no deaths or injuries to residents.

As firefighters responded to a mid-morning alarm activation at the apartment complex, the dispatch center sent a second unit to the scene after a resident called 911 to report that she was trapped on her balcony by smoke in her unit.

First-arriving units reported no visible signs of fire upon arrival at the four-story building. An engine company crew proceeded directly to the caller’s third-floor apartment while remaining crews staged outside.

Inside the apartment, the engine company reported that a small fire had been extinguished by the apartment’s sprinkler system and that there was active water flow from two sprinkler heads. Crews were advised by the female resident on the rear balcony that she had not been injured, and she was escorted out of the apartment once it had been adequately ventilated.

After the occupant was safely moved outside, crews shut down water flow to the sprinkler system and used brooms to remove water from the apartment.

Investigators determined that the fire started when a candle that had been left burning on a kitchen counter ignited combustible materials while the occupant was sleeping.

The apartment was part of a structure that occupied a ground floor area of 7,500 square feet (697 square meters). The complex was protected by an automatic sprinkler system, with connection to a central station alarm.

The fire caused an estimated $200 in damage to the apartment building, valued at $2 million. Damage to room contents was also estimated at $200.



One injured in fire and explosion at wood products manufacturer

Firefighters were dispatched to a wood products manufacturing facility at 9 a.m. following reports of an explosion and fire.

The first units to reach the scene observed heavy fire and smoke showing below a canopy adjacent to the facility and reported that they were met by a man with burn injuries. Emergency medical technicians immediately transported the burn victim, who was the owner of the shop, to the hospital for treatment.

Crews reported that a sprinkler system underneath the canopy had activated and was helping to control the fire from extending into the building that housed the shop. Firefighters pulled hose lines for fire attack and were able to bring the fire under control in 15 to 20 minutes and to completely extinguish it within 45 minutes.

Crews learned from employees that, prior to the explosion, the shop had begun to fill with smoke and that someone was instructed to shut down the dust collector. Shortly afterwards, the sprinkler system activated and the owner grabbed a fire extinguisher and emptied it into the dust collector. He was spraying a second extinguisher into the dust collector when there was an explosion and fireball, burning him on his arms, head, chest, and back.

According to newspaper reports, the fire chief determined that the dust collection system had filled with dust, allowing heat to build up and causing the dust to smolder. When the doors to the system were opened, the introduction of oxygen was sufficient to produce a flashover inside the unit.

Post-incident reports indicated that the injuries sustained by the owner were not life threatening.

The facility was equipped with a wet-pipe sprinkler system but was not equipped with smoke detectors.

Damage from the fire was estimated at $50,000.


Sprinkler system contains fire at manufacturing facility

A fire that began in a trailer on a manufacturing plant’s assembly line was extinguished by the facility’s automatic sprinkler system before it could spread and cause widespread damage.

Firefighters were summoned to the facility following notification by an offsite alarm monitoring company shortly after 8 a.m. Newspaper reports indicated that water and smoke were coming from one side of the building as fire crews reached the scene. Approximately 500 employees were said to have already evacuated and were gathered at designated meeting points outside the plant, which manufactured trailers.

Investigators determined that the fire started when a welder heated foam insulation while working inside a trailer, then left for the day. Sometime later, enough oxygen was present for the foam to ignite and spread to surrounding combustible materials. Four overhead sprinkler heads activated and were able to contain the fire to the trailer.

The building was protected by an automatic detection system and a wet-pipe sprinkler system, with off-site monitoring.

The facility was a one-story structure occupying a ground floor area of 560,000 square feet (52,026 square meters). The walls of the building were constructed of concrete, with a concrete slab floor, a metal roof deck over a steel frame, and a roof cover of rubber membrane over foam.

The fire caused an estimated $195,000 in damage to building contents.



Warehouse fire results in mayday scare for firefighter

A firefighter responding to a fire in a fabric warehouse became separated from the hose he was attending and had to be assisted out of the building.

Firefighters were dispatched to a manufacturing complex at 7:30 a.m. by a report of a water problem in the warehouse. Crews were met at an entry gate by an employee and directed to the warehouse, where they found smoke conditions on the first floor and water coming from beneath a locked hallway door.

Two crew members from an engine company forced entry through the hallway door and reported near zero visibility and sprinkler activation. With the aid of a thermal imaging camera and a search rope, they and a second engine crew pulled an attack line into the structure as they sought the seat of the fire. Approximately 150 feet into the structure, the crews found contents on fire along the length of a long cutting table, where a sprinkler system was keeping the fire under control.

One of the interior teams returned to the entrance to pull a second line into the structure when a mayday was transmitted by a firefighter who had been stationed at the hallway door. Incident command instructed the firefighter to activate his personal alert safety system, and he was located within two minutes of the mayday, approximately 30 feet into the structure. The firefighter was escorted outside and checked by emergency medical services personnel. A personnel accountability report found all firefighters to be accounted for.

Following the mayday alert, crews from a ladder company gained access to the roof for vertical ventilation and stretched a hose to the roof to extinguish remaining fire.

A post-incident report indicated that the lost firefighter had been feeding hose at the hallway door when he became separated from the hose and was unable to orient himself in the dense smoke. The report, which included discussion of “two-in, two-out” safety protocols, singled out training and personnel needs to prevent future incidents.

News reports indicated that combustibles underneath a cutting table were the materials first ignited, but the source of ignition was not identified.

The property was an industrial park comprised of a number of manufacturing facilities and warehouses. The warehouse occupied 18,000 square feet (1,672 square meters) in a larger multi-story building that had a ground floor area of 60,000 square feet (5,574 square meters). The building was of heavy timber construction with a saw-toothed roof system and was protected by a wet-pipe sprinkler system.

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: Lisa Roose-Church/Livingston Daily Press