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


Fire incidents from across the country


Mixed Use Industrial


Massive fire at industrial complex forces evacuations

A fire in a mixed-use industrial building burned for several days and drew a massive response from fire departments and other emergency response personnel before operations were concluded, and the building was turned back to its owners.

The first crews were dispatched to the scene following a call from the complex shortly before 7:30 a.m. On arrival, crews were escorted to the fire location, a large building that covered an area of one million square feet. Employees waiting outside the building directed crews to the location of the fire, and the incident commander observed a fully involved fire after opening a door to investigate. Fire at that point broke out on the exterior of the building.

Crews established a water supply and positioned an aerial platform and deck gun for fire attack. Incident command had already called for a second alarm before arrival and issued a request for mutual aid from nearby communities. Due to the intensity of the fire, crews remained outside the structure and mounted a defensive operation. News reports indicated that sections of the roof and walls collapsed and residents reported hearing explosions. Over 100 firefighters were reported to be involved in extinguishment efforts.

The fire originated in a storage area of a plastic recycling business. Employees thought that they had successfully extinguished the fire with fire extinguishers, but it flared up and spread quickly through the storage area. The presence of cars, boats, and recreational vehicles in an adjoining vehicle storage area contributed significantly to the intensity of the fire.

Due to a large smoke plume and concerns about airborne contaminants, nearby residents were advised to shelter in place. Hazardous material teams and environmental authorities set up several air particulate monitors and sampling units, which were adjusted with changing wind conditions, and an absorbent boom was deployed along a nearby creek to capture runoff from firefighting operations. The state health department distributed fact sheets with health-related information to neighborhood residents.

As the fire continued to burn for a second day, heavy smoke and a change in wind direction led to the evacuation of one neighborhood, with the evacuation order remaining in effect for just over 24 hours.

Heavy equipment was brought to the site to remove sections of the building and provide firefighters with direct access for fire suppression. Master stream and aerial operations continued over a three-day period before the fire was determined to be under control, but extinguishment efforts continued for several more days as the equipment opened up hot spots.

Initially, a broken light bulb was cited as the cause of the fire, but news reports 10 months after the fire indicated that investigators classified the cause of the fire as undetermined.

The building, which previously housed a steel mill, was a single-story structure that stood 50 feet in height and was built in a triangular shape. The structure was constructed with steel walls and roof framing, a concrete floor, and a roof deck of steel and wood. The building was not equipped with sprinkler protection.

One firefighter suffered a broken ankle while laying hose outside the building. No other civilian or responder injuries were reported.

The fire caused an estimated $1 million damage to the building, valued at $2.5 million. No estimates were available of damage to building contents.



Overloaded power strip blamed for fire that kills one, injures two

One person died and two others were injured in an early morning fire that was caused by an overloaded extension cord.

Firefighters were dispatched to the residence at 1:15 a.m. when a passerby spotted the fire and called 911. The first units reached the scene within seven minutes and reported heavy fire showing from a manufactured home. Shortly afterwards, crews reported a possible entrapment and attacked the fire with a hose.

As crews battled the fire, they confirmed that two residents were outside the structure and that one remained inside. Crews reported that the fire was knocked down 18 minutes after arrival, but that they were unable to rescue the resident trapped inside, who was found on a bed in a rear bedroom.

Investigators indicated that the structure was over 50 years old and that several electrical outlets were non-functioning. Inside, they found that a power strip plugged into an extension cord that ran from the kitchen was used to supply power to a television, space heater, fan, and router in the living room. Investigators determined that overcurrent in the extension cord heated the carpet to ignition. As the fire grew, it melted plastic sheeting that covered a broken window, enabling a strong wind to cause additional fire spread.

Reports indicated that the two surviving occupants suffered smoke inhalation injuries.

The residence was not equipped with smoke alarms.

The fire caused an estimated $10,000 in damage to the contents of the residence. No information was available on the value of the residence or the extent of the damage.


Resident dies in fire ignited by cigarette

An afternoon house fire started by a lit cigarette claimed the life of a female resident.

Firefighters were dispatched to the fire at 4:30 p.m. after a relative of the victim called 911. While en route, crews were advised that the address could not be confirmed by the relative reporting the fire. After finding no fire at the initially reported address, crews were redirected to a second address, where they reported no signs of fire showing from a small single-family residence.

Crews were informed that a victim was likely to be inside the house. Crews reported they could smell smoke at the front entrance to the residence, while crews from a truck company reported smoke at the rear of the structure, prompting incident command to request a second alarm for additional resources.

Engine crews pulled primary and backup hoses to the rear of the house, where the truck company made entry, encountering heavy smoke. A medical team was directed to set up positive pressure ventilation at the rear of the house. Interior crews reported increasing heat and worsening conditions, prompting incident command to order all interior personnel to evacuate the building.

Following a personnel accountability report, incident command ordered a defensive fire attack and medics were assigned to establish a rehabilitation area. Crews also directed a protective water stream to the side of an adjacent residence.

As the fire was brought under control, crews initiated a primary search from the front of the residence, encountering and extinguishing fire on the left side of the structure. Moving room by room, they located the victim on a bedroom floor and reported to command that the victim was obviously deceased. Crews were directed to secure the area and leave the victim in place, then continued to search the rest of the residence, finding no additional victims or fire extension.

Investigators learned that the victim had a mobility disability and was smoking in bed when she dropped her cigarette and was unable to find it, prompting the phone call to a relative. The fire started when the cigarette ignited bedding materials.

Firefighters found no indication that the house was protected by smoke alarms. The residence was a two-story wood structure with an asphalt shingle roof cover and a ground floor area of 676 square feet (63 square meters).

Damage to the structure, valued at $72,700, was estimated at $30,000, with an additional $5,000 in losses of building contents.


Fatal house fire caused by smoking materials

One person died in an afternoon house fire that investigators say began when smoking materials ignited a bedroom mattress. Batteries were disconnected in smoke alarms found inside the home.

Firefighters were dispatched to the scene at 4:30 p.m. when a nearby resident called 911 to report a structure fire with a possible victim trapped inside. Upon arrival, firefighting crews reported smoke showing from the eaves, rear, and front door of a single-story house.

Crews initiated a rapid fire attack and search and rescue, entering the residence through the front door. Inside, they located the seat of the fire and the elderly male victim in a bedroom at the back of the house. The resident was moved outside and turned over to medical staff, who determined that he was deceased.

Rescue teams completed primary and secondary searches of the residence and found no additional victims. Firefighters completed extinguishment of the fire.

Investigators determined that the fire began when smoking materials came into contact with the top of a mattress in the rear bedroom and that the fire became a flaming fire as it spread to additional fuel. The fire intensified with the introduction of oxygen after neighbors broke rear windows in an unsuccessful rescue attempt.

The house was of wood construction with asphalt shingles and occupied a ground floor area of 1,126 square feet (104 square meters).

The house, valued at $73,300, sustained $30,000 in damage. The fire caused an additional $2,000 in damage to contents, valued at $30,000.


Resident dies in house fire started by overheated power strip

A female resident died in a house fire that investigators attributed to an overheated electrical power strip.

The fire department was dispatched to the scene following a phone call to 911 by a neighbor, who indicated that someone might still be inside the house. The first engine company to arrive reported a working fire and that crews were preparing to make entry. Crews were advised by dispatch to exercise caution because of potential hoarding conditions inside the residence.

First-arriving crews reported smoke showing from one side of the house. Incident command directed crews to pull a hose line for entry. Crews then forced open a door at the front of the house and were met by thick smoke banked down to two feet above floor level. Visibility inside the structure improved, however, as smoke escaped through the front door.

Due to the large amount of content inside the house, firefighters had a difficult time advancing into the structure. Two firefighters were able to start the search and were opening a second door to ventilate the house when the victim was found by crews from an engine company. The victim was immediately moved outside.

Medical crews began administering CPR to the victim, who was unresponsive and had no pulse, then transported her to the hospital. The patient was pronounced dead in the emergency room after attempts to revive her failed.

Investigators determined that the cause of the fire was an overheated power strip plugged into a second power strip. The three-prong plug of the second strip was plugged into the wall through a two-prong adapter. Heat from the power strip ignited nearby combustibles near the entrance to the house. Investigators indicated that the home did not have working smoke alarms.

The house was a single-story structure with a ground floor area of 2,576 square feet (239 square meters). The house was of wood construction with a concrete floor frame.

Damage from the fire was estimated at $25,250.


Sprinkler system extinguishes fire in nursing home

Firefighters responding to a report of fire in a nursing home found that the facility’s sprinkler system had extinguished a fire that started in a microwave oven.

The fire department was dispatched to the scene at 9 a.m. following an alarm line activation. Dispatch contacted an employee of the nursing home, who reported that a chair had caught fire and that the fire was extinguished.

Arriving firefighters reported nothing showing from the facility. They were met by an employee, who directed them to a residential unit on the first floor where the fire had originated. An engine crew sent to investigate confirmed that the fire had been knocked down by the sprinkler system.

Nearby residents were relocated to a dining area while crews vented smoke from the apartment, checked for fire extension, and shut down the sprinkler system. Testing found carbon monoxide levels to be acceptable and no smoke was found by crews inspecting the second floor.

Investigators learned that the fire started when a resident placed a dry terrycloth towel in a microwave in order to heat it to relieve neck pain. While waiting for the towel to heat, she noticed smoke coming from the microwave and opened the microwave door, when the towel burst into flames. The resident then threw the towel across the room and it landed next to an upholstered chair. She then called for help and an employee assisted her out of her apartment. One head of the facility’s wet-pipe sprinkler system opened and successfully extinguished the fire.

The fire caused heavy smoke and water damage throughout the apartment of fire origin, as well as water damage in the hallway and two adjacent apartments. Dollar losses from the fire were estimated at $60,000 in structural damage and an additional $5,000 in losses to contents.

The nursing home was a three-story building constructed with wood and asphalt shingling and occupied a ground floor area of approximately 48,300 square feet (4,487 square meters).


Fire in rural residence kills one, injures another

An early evening fire in a rural residence claimed the life of one resident and left a second with burn injuries.

Firefighters were alerted to the fire at 6:20 p.m. following a call to 911 by a neighboring resident. Reports indicated that the fire location was at the outer limits of the fire department’s first-in-response area and that crews did not reach the scene until 20 minutes after the alarm.

Upon arrival, crews reported that the residence was fully involved with fire. Firefighting personnel attempted entry, but were driven back by heat and flame. Crews then set up an exterior attack of the fire. News reports indicated that crews made an unsuccessful effort to gain entry through a back door and later discovered that a large object was sitting against the door on the inside.

After the fire was extinguished, firefighters were reportedly able to gain access to the house through a back wall and recovered the body of a resident. Firefighters reported that the second resident had tried to reenter the house after escaping, but was turned back by fire.

Investigators indicated that the house was not equipped with smoke alarms. Due to damage, the investigation was unable to identify the cause of the fire.

The house was a single-story residence wood construction with a ground floor area of 1,200 square feet (111 square meters).

The house and its contents, which were collectively valued at $70,000, were a total loss.


Four occupants escape house fire that claims one victim

Firefighters were dispatched to a house fire shortly after 1 a.m. following a neighbor’s call to 911.

Upon arrival, crews from an engine company reported that approximately half of the residence was involved in fire and confirmed that one occupant was still inside. Fire was visible on three sides of the house and was venting through broken windows and open doors.

Four other residents had earlier managed to escape the fast-moving fire.

Crews established a water supply from a nearby hydrant and a search team pulled a handline into the house through a side bedroom window, while an engine company attacked fire in the living room from the same side. Search team members located the resident approximately nine minutes after arrival, but he had already succumbed to his injuries.

Due to intense fire and heat, crews were forced to back out of the structure, and remaining extinguishment efforts were strictly defensive. The fire was determined to be under control approximately 28 minutes after arrival and crews began conducting overhaul operations.

A female resident told investigators that she had been sleeping when she was awakened by smoke. She then ran to another bedroom to waken other family members, who she led to the front door. She noticed fire in the living area as they exited, and unsuccessfully tried to locate the remaining family member after leading the others to safety.

Investigators determined that the fire originated in the living room on or near an upholstered chair, but they were unable to establish a definite cause for the blaze.

All of the residents who escaped the fire had smoke inhalation injuries. One suffered serious burns and was transported to a burn hospital for treatment.

The home was not equipped with smoke alarms or a sprinkler system. No information was available on losses from the fire.


Hoarding conditions possible factor in deadly house fire

Firefighters were dispatched to a house fire at 4:17 a.m. after a neighbor called 911 and informed dispatch that an occupant was possibly still inside the structure.

The first crews to reach the scene reported that heavy smoke and flames were showing from the rear of a single-family residence. Neighbors waiting nearby indicated that they had knocked on doors in an effort to alert the resident, an elderly man, but received no response.

Following a walk-around, crews determined that the fire was confined to the rear of the structure, where fire was venting from the roof and a fully involved bedroom at the rear corner. After an initial knockdown of the fire from the exterior, crews stretched a hose to the rear of the house and forced open the back door, then pulled the hose inside as they made their way through the kitchen and living room. Dense smoke and hoarding conditions inside the house slowed their progress.

The interior team advanced inside the house, one firefighter attacking the seat of the fire in the rear while two others searched for the occupant, who they found unresponsive and leaning against the wall in the living room. Search team members pulled the occupant outside, and emergency personnel initiated resuscitation efforts in the front yard. Rescue crews returned to the structure to continue extinguishment efforts.

After the fire was knocked down, crews set up ventilation and overhauled the fire area just enough to check for fire extension, otherwise leaving it undisturbed for investigators.

The victim was transported to the hospital and later pronounced dead as a result of smoke inhalation injuries. Firefighters indicated that his age and the hoarding conditions inside the house may have hindered his ability to escape.

Investigators determined that the fire originated in the rear bedroom, which the occupant used as a storage area, but were unable to determine a precise cause.

The house was constructed with a wood frame, metal-sided walls, and an asphalt roof cover. The house occupied a ground floor area of 765 square feet (71 square meters) and was a single-story structure. It was not equipped with smoke alarms or sprinkler protection.

The fire caused an estimated $30,000 in damage to the house, valued at $70,000, and $2,000 in damage to its contents.


Smoking materials blamed for fatal house fire

One person died in an afternoon house fire that was attributed smoking materials.

A neighboring resident spotted the fire at 4:22 p.m. and called 911, indicating to dispatch that an occupant was still inside the structure. Firefighters reached the scene two minutes later to find smoke showing from the eaves and front door of a single-story house.

Crews initiated a rapid fire attack and search and rescue operation, entering through the front door. Approximately six minutes after arrival, they located the seat of the fire and the occupant in a rear bedroom. The occupant was quickly evacuated though the front door and placed in the care of a waiting paramedic, who found him to be deceased. No additional occupants were located following primary and secondary searches of the residence.

Following extinguishment, it was determined that the fire originated on top of the bedroom mattress and was started by smoking materials. Fresh remains of smoking materials were found to the left of the bed.

A smoke alarm in the house was non-operational because its battery had been disconnected.

The house was a single-story wood structure with a ground floor area of 1,126 square feet (105 square meters).

The fire caused an estimated $30,000 in damage to the house, valued at $73,300, and an additional $2,000 in damage to its contents.


Fire in manufactured home claims life of occupant

An early morning fire in a manufactured home that lacked smoke alarms claimed the life of a male resident.

Firefighters were dispatched to the scene when the victim contacted 911 at 1 a.m. Arriving crews reported that the structure was fully involved with fire. During a size-up of the residence, the incident commander noted that power lines were down at the rear of the structure and assigned crews to section the area off until power could be secured by the utility company.

Firefighters pulled hoses for fire attack and hooked up to a hydrant located approximately 200 feet away. Crews mounted a defensive fire attack, while also seeking to protect an exposed residence, whose occupants had earlier been evacuated by police. After the fire was brought under control, crews continued to extinguish hot spots.

Once crews were able to make a secondary search of the residence, they found the body of the resident at the rear of the structure, with one of his arms extending through the window.

The fire caused extensive damage to the home, including a collapse of the roof and most of the walls. Damage was most extensive in the living room area, where fire caused a large V pattern near the center of one wall and left a large amount of fire debris from burned contents.

According to investigators, a back door for the residence had been permanently secured shut. The victim had health conditions that may have hindered his ability to escape.

Investigators determined that the fire originated near a couch in the living room, but were unable to identify an ignition source.

The residence occupied a ground floor area of 720 square feet (67 square meters).

No information was available on dollar losses from the fire, but the residence appeared to be a total loss.



Welding torch ignites fire during renovation work

Hot work was blamed for starting a fire in a hospital educational facility undergoing renovations.

The fire department responded to the scene at 8:18 a.m. following a phone call from construction workers, who had pulled a fire alarm that failed to activate. Upon arrival, crews from an engine company reported heavy black smoke coming from the roof of the facility’s auditorium area.

Construction workers informed firefighters that they were working in a room adjacent to the auditorium and that the fire appeared to be located in the auditorium. The workers believed that everyone had evacuated the building.

Crews advanced an attack line to the main entrance and then down a hallway, where they were able to confirm that the fire was restricted to the auditorium. A team of four firefighters made entry to the auditorium with the attack line, reporting black smoke from floor to ceiling throughout. Crews removed windows at the front of the auditorium to provide ventilation and began attacking the fire, which they were able to extinguish without complications.

Investigators found that crews were using a torch to cut pipes on the interior side of the wall where the fire began. Workers noticed smoke in the auditorium and attempted to extinguish the fire with a dry chemical extinguisher before pulling the fire alarm. The investigators determined that the torch ignited carpet in a storage area before spreading to holiday decorations, rolls of carpet, and other stored items.

The fire was confined to the storage area, which was not equipped with sprinkler protection. No information was available on the dollar value of damage.

The facility was a single story structure with a ground floor area of 240,000 square feet (22,300 square meters).


Arson causes significant damage in after-hours high school fire

A fire that began when arsonists set fire to a mop in a custodial closet caused an estimated $1 million in damage in a high school.

Firefighters were dispatched to the scene by an alarm monitoring company at 9:45 p.m. The school was protected by an automatic smoke detection system that included detectors in classrooms and hallways. The building did not have automatic sprinkler protection.

Three suspects, all juveniles, were arrested and faced juvenile delinquency petitions, according to newspaper coverage. Surveillance video reportedly captured two of the suspects exiting the custodial closet shortly before smoke issued from the area, while additional footage showed the third suspect setting fire to posters in a classroom.

Investigators determined that a lighter was used to ignite a floor mop in the custodial closet and that the fire spread to other combustibles in the closet area. They noted that solder on pipes in the closet melted and that water from the pipes may have helped keep the fire from extending.

Newspaper reports indicated that classes were canceled for two days due to extensive smoke and water damage. Repairs were needed in five classrooms and the school theater.

The building was a two-story structure constructed with wood walls, a steel frame, and a built-up roof covering.



Sprinklers control truck fire in warehouse

Sprinklers controlled an after-hours fire in a warehouse until firefighters arrived to complete extinguishment.

Crews were dispatched to the scene after the sprinkler system’s water flow alarm was activated by the fire at 10:17 p.m. Inside the warehouse, crews found fire in a dump box truck parked inside. Crews extinguished remaining fire, set up ventilation, and performed salvage and overhaul operations.

In news reports, officials credited the facility’s sprinkler system with preventing the fire from destroying the facility and nearby businesses.

Investigators determined that the fire originated in the engine compartment of a truck that was parked in a garage area inside the facility. The fire was contained to the truck, but smoke spread to two adjacent units of the building. Investigators were unable to determine the source of ignition.

The warehouse was constructed with concrete walls, a wood joist floor frame, a steel roof frame, and membrane roof cover. It stood 25 feet (7.6 meters) high and occupied a ground floor area of 21,500 square feet (1,997 square meters).

The fire caused an estimated $10,000 in damage to the warehouse, valued at $490,000. Losses to the contents, valued at $300,000, were estimated at $50,000.

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