Author(s): Richard Campbell. Published on January 2, 2019.


Fire incidents from across the country




Resident dies in house fire blamed on electrical fault

An elderly man died in a house fire that began when an electrical fault ignited wood paneling and spread through the structure.

Firefighters were summoned to the scene when a neighbor called 911 to report a fire with a person possibly trapped inside. Crews arrived to find heavy fire venting from the roof over the kitchen, living room, and carport.

A ladder company pulled two handlines to begin attacking the fire and protect an adjacent residence on the east side of the property. Two other firefighters were assigned to a search team with instructions to find a place for safe entry away from the fire. It was soon determined that the heavy fuel load and fire conditions would not permit entry, and incident command called for a shift to defensive operations.

The ladder was raised on an aerial apparatus, which began discharging water over the entire house, knocking down the majority of the fire. A search team entered the residence and found the victim in a hallway, where he was left in place for the county coroner. Crews continued to extinguish hot spots and apply foam to the interior to prevent fire from rekindling. One firefighter suffered an unspecified injury while climbing a ladder.

Investigators determined that faulty wiring in a receptacle in the kitchen had arced and ignited wood paneling behind the refrigerator. Other family members indicated that they had been having problems with the electricity.

The residence was equipped with battery-operated smoke alarms, but it was unclear if they were operational.

The house was a single-story structure with brick walls, concrete floor framing, and wooden roof deck. It occupied a ground-floor area of 1,400 square feet (130 square meters).

The house, valued at $85,000, was a total loss, as were its contents. Information on the value of the contents was not available.


Hoarding conditions present in electrical fire that kills one

An elderly man died in a residential fire caused by an overheated extension cord.

Firefighters were dispatched to a fire with a report of a person trapped inside the structure. When they arrived, light smoke was showing from the front doorway of a manufactured home, with nearby residents attempting to rescue the victim and extinguish the fire.

Crews advised the residents to move away and prepared for fire attack and rescue. As they entered the residence, firefighters were met with gray smoke and moderate heat levels, but were able to begin a primary search. They located the victim, an elderly male, in a rear bedroom and moved him outside, where medical personnel began resuscitation efforts.

Crews resumed fire attack as the resident was transferred to an ambulance and transported to the hospital. Inside, they found the fire in the living room and were able to control it with a single attack line and about 100 gallons of water. Fire involvement was confined to an upholstered chair and 15 square feet of carpet. A second interior survey for hotspots confirmed that the fire was fully extinguished.

Crews reported that hoarding conditions complicated their ability to move within the structure and were also likely to have hindered any efforts by the occupant to escape. The resident succumbed to smoke inhalation injuries in the hospital.

Investigators also noted the presence of excessive amounts of combustible materials in the home. They identified a burn pattern under piles of plastic bags where an extension cord was attached to portable electrical heaters and found that the ends of the heater and extension cords were completely consumed by fire. They determined that the fire was caused by overheating of the cord due to a loose connection at the location of the heater and extension cords.

The home had an interior area of 384 square feet (36 square meters). No information was available on dollar losses from the fire.


Fire started by radiant heat from fireplace claims elderly resident

An elderly man died in a house fire that began when radiant heat ignited cardboard boxes left on a fireplace hearth.

The fire department was dispatched to the fire following a phone call to 911 by a passerby at 12:30 a.m. Upon arrival, crews reported that flames were projecting through the roof at the rear of the residence. Incident command assigned crews to fire attack, search and rescue, water supply, and rapid intervention operations.

As crews began attacking the fire at the rear of the house, the rescue team entered through the front door but was forced to exit due to extreme heat. The rescue team obtained a second attack line and reentered the residence, where it was able to assist with extinguishment while searching for the victim, whose body was found in a rear bedroom. Firefighters were able to knock down the fire approximately 40 minutes after arrival.

Investigators determined that the resident was using gas logs as supplemental heat in his fireplace. During the night, radiant heat from the gas logs ignited cardboard boxes left on the fireplace hearth. In a news account of the fire, the deputy fire chief cautioned residents to always keep combustible materials at least three feet away from supplemental sources of heat.

The house was a single-story wood construction with wood and brick walls and asphalt shingles. The structure occupied a ground-floor area of 2,562 square feet (238 square meters). The house was equipped with a single smoke alarm in the owner’s bedroom.

The fire caused an estimated $110,000 to the house, valued at $150,000, and $20,000 in damage to its contents.


One dies when space heater ignites bedding materials

An elderly woman died in an early morning house fire that began when a space heater ignited bedding materials, but two other occupants were able to safely evacuate.

Firefighters were dispatched at 3:19 a.m. when one of the surviving residents called 911 after a space heater ignited bedding materials on his bed. Upon arrival, crews reported that two occupants were outside and that smoke was showing from the chimney of a single-story structure. Crews learned from the evacuated occupants that a third resident was believed to still be inside.

Crews entering the house found fire in the basement and on both floors of the structure. Several minutes into fire attack, search crews found the body of the missing occupant, already deceased. Team members transported the victim outside to await custody by the medical examiner.

Crews continued extinguishment until the fire was completely knocked down, then began ventilation operations and performed overhaul activities.

Investigators learned from one of the surviving residents that the fire started in the basement, where a space heater ignited bedding materials. There was an apparent delay in reporting the fire due to efforts to rescue the trapped occupant.

One of the surviving residents was treated for smoke inhalation injuries.

The house was equipped with battery-operated smoke alarms, which firefighters reported to be operational.

The house was a single-story structure with a finished attic and was of wood construction with brick veneer walls. The house had a ground-floor area of 1,012 square feet (94 square meters).

The house and contents, collectively valued at $81,000, were a total loss.


Sprinkler system extinguishes arson fire in apartment building

Firefighters were dispatched at 4:30 p.m. to a multi-story apartment building by a fire alarm and reports of smoke on the second floor. While en route to the scene, crews were informed that there were residents on the second and fourth floors who had mobility disabilities and would require assistance.

Upon arrival, firefighters reported that fire alarms were sounding and that light smoke was visible from the front of the building on the second floor. Evacuating residents informed crews that the building’s sprinkler system was activated in the laundry room. Police officers on the scene assisted with occupant evacuations.

Incident command assigned teams to evacuate the residents who had been identified as having mobility disabilities and to assist the ongoing evacuation. A second team was assigned to wait in the lobby for potential rapid intervention, while an engine company was assigned to fire attack on the second floor.

Interior crews found that the sprinkler system had extinguished the fire in the laundry room on the second floor. Crews shut down the sprinkler system in the laundry room and set up a positive-pressure fan to clear the smoke, then conducted air monitoring and determined that no carbon monoxide or other gases were present. One civilian was transported to the hospital for smoke inhalation.

Investigators determined that the fire started when someone set fire to cardboard boxes containing holiday decorations that were stored beneath a folding wooden table. The fire spread vertically to the table until heat and flame activated a sprinkler directly above the table. The cause of the fire was ruled as arson. The building had experienced several false alarms in the week prior to the fire and news reports indicated that police had identified a person of interest in the case.

The apartment building was of masonry construction with four floors above ground level. The fire caused an estimated $1,500 in damage to the apartment building, valued at $4 million, and an estimated $300 in damage to contents in the laundry room.


One resident dies and another is injured in kitchen fire

One person died and a second was injured in a house fire that began when cooking oil ignited on a kitchen stove.

A call to 911 from someone in the home sent firefighters to the scene at 7:40 p.m. According to news reports, firefighters and police arrived to find light smoke showing from a side window and an injured occupant attempting to escape through a bedroom window on the opposite side. The reports indicated that the occupant had broken enough glass to get his head out and that responders broke additional glass in order to pull him to safety. The occupant was transported to the hospital and treated for smoke inhalation injuries.

Firefighters entered the residence through the front door and were able to easily knock down the fire, which was concentrated above the stove area. The deceased victim was found on the kitchen floor near the stove. Crews ventilated the interior and monitored the air until conditions were deemed to be safe.

Investigators determined that a pan containing cooking oil was left on the stove and ignited, spreading to surrounding cabinets and nearby curtains. They believe that the victim at some point attempted to carry the pan to the front door and that his clothing was ignited by flames before he collapsed. The home was not equipped with automatic detection equipment.

The house was a single-story structure with a ground floor of 800 square feet (74 square meters) and was of wood construction with asphalt shingles.

The fire caused $10,000 in damage to the house, valued at $158,000, and an additional $5,000 damage to its contents.

News reports indicated that a firefighter suffered an unspecified injury while fighting the fire.


Three die in blaze in apartment with no smoke alarms

Authorities indicated that no smoke alarms were found at the scene of a deadly apartment fire that claimed three victims.

Firefighters were dispatched at 12:42 a.m. by reports of a building fire with possible entrapment. They arrived within minutes to find a single-story apartment building showing heavy smoke and flames. Crews found an adult male on the ground outside the structure who was suffering from burn and smoke inhalation injuries and were informed that two occupants were still inside.

Firefighters donned personal protective equipment and pulled two attack lines to the front of the building. Crews described heavy fire at the front windows of the involved apartment and crews began an exterior fire attack, then forced open a security door to gain access to the interior, which was full of flames and smoke.

Fire attack crews split into two groups. One group began searching along the left wall and found a female victim in the living room and determined that she was already deceased. As the group moved toward the rear of the apartment, it discovered a second victim in the hallway and immediately moved her outside to begin resuscitation efforts. She and the male victim found outside the apartment were transported to the hospital.

Crews searched the rest of the apartment and found no additional occupants, then knocked down hot spots and pulled sections of ceiling.

The occupants transported to the hospital later succumbed to their injuries. Two other female occupants who had escaped through a back window were treated for non-life-threatening injuries.

The fire gutted the kitchen and living room, where investigators believe the fire started. Due to the extent of the damage, investigators could not determine the cause, but indicated that they could not rule out smoking materials.

In a press release on the fire, the fire department emphasized that smoke alarms are required under safety codes and underscored their importance in alerting occupants to smoke and enabling adequate time for escape.

The fire caused an estimated $30,000 in damage to the structure and $5,000 in damage to its contents.

The apartment building was a four-unit complex constructed with concrete block walls and a wood roof deck covered with shingles.


Electrical arcing in extension cord causes fatal fire

One person died in an early morning house fire caused by electrical arcing in an underrated extension cord.

The fire department was dispatched following a call to 911 by one of the home’s residents, who was wakened by the home’s detection system at 4:30 a.m. Two police officers were first to reach the scene and were met by an adult male resident, who stated that his wife was inside the house and trapped on the third floor. Officers attempted to make their way to the third floor, but were forced to turn back due to smoke and high heat.

Fire crews arrived and deployed an aerial apparatus while a search team prepared to mount a primary search after a police officer showed them a stairway to the third floor through a bedroom closet. The search made its way through thick smoke and zero visibility conditions to the top of the stairway, mounting a counterclockwise search of the room until reaching an obstruction without finding the victim. The first crew was joined by a second team that began searching in a clockwise direction from stairs and located the victim about five feet away.

Crews removed the victim and began resuscitation efforts before a medical rescue team transported her to the hospital.

Investigators learned from a family member that she was awakened during the night by smoke alarms and saw fire near a portable heater in her bedroom on the third floor. She alerted other members of the household and they evacuated the residence, but the victim decided to return to the upstairs bedroom to try to extinguish the fire with a fire extinguisher. The investigators found that a power strip servicing the portable heater in the bedroom was plugged into an extension cord that was plugged into the wall outlet. They determined that the fire was caused by an underrated extension cord supplying power to a device requiring more amperage than the cord could supply and that overheating and electrical arcing ignited clothing near the heater.

The fire caused an estimated $10,000 in damage to the structure and $5,000 in damage to contents.

The house was a three-story structure of wood construction with an asphalt roof. It occupied a ground floor area of 1,500 square feet (139 square meters).


Malfunctioning pellet stove ignites fatal fire

An early morning fire that began when a pellet stove ignited nearby combustibles claimed the life of a male resident.

Neighbors spotted the fire and called 911 at 5:28 a.m. The dispatch officer informed firefighters as they were en route to the scene that a resident was possibly still inside the structure. Upon arrival, crews found a manufactured home fully involved with fire, with fire venting through the roof and front and rear doors.

Incident command made a circuit of the structure’s perimeter and noted that extreme fire was loading at one end of the home and that fire was well-established underneath, with a partial roof collapse over the living room and several propane tanks venting on the exterior. The crew of an engine company was assigned to initiate fire attack.

Firefighters began attacking the fire with attack lines at the front and rear entrances. Crews working from the rear made entry for extinguishment and a primary search, while a hole was cut at a front corner of the structure to allow entry from the front. After completing a primary search of the uninvolved end of the structure, interior crews pulled a section of collapsed roof and found the deceased occupant in the dining room area. Incident command ordered a suspension of extinguishment and overhaul activities in order to preserve the scene and issued a request for assistance from a coroner and arson unit.

Crews completed overhaul and extinguishment after a county coroner removed the victim and the scene was cleared. Several hours after all units were released, an engine company returned to make sure the fire was completely out.

Investigators determined that excess pellet feed caused combustion byproducts to accumulate in the stove pipe elbow, leading to a failure and the ignition of ordinary combustibles stacked around the stove. Investigators learned from neighbors that the pellet stove’s feed system would not turn off and that the owner normally set his cell phone alarm to wake him in order to shut off the feeder.

The residence was a single-wide trailer home with a ground-floor area of approximately 1,000 square feet (93 square meters). The residence was constructed of tin walls, a metal roof deck and cover, and wood and metal joist framing. It was not equipped with smoke alarms.

The house and contents, valued at $75,000, were a total loss.


Resident dies when smoking materials ignite apartment fire

Smoking materials were blamed for starting a fire in a three-story apartment building that claimed the life of a female resident.

Firefighters were dispatched at 8:30 p.m. by a neighbor who reported that the building’s fire alarm was sounding. Arriving crews reported smoke showing from a first-floor window. Crews were able to knock down the fire after pulling a handline to the window, and two firefighters entered through the window to continue suppression efforts. During a primary search of the apartment, crews located a female occupant on a bed and moved her outside, where medical personnel performed resuscitation efforts.

Emergency personnel assisted with evacuating residents from the building and summoned the Salvation Army and Red Cross to assist temporarily displaced residents. Firefighters began ventilation efforts and monitored the air for hazardous conditions. The building was turned over to management when it was determined to be safe to occupy.

Investigators determined that the fire started in the apartment’s bedroom when smoking materials ignited combustible materials in a mesh waste basket.

The apartment building occupied a ground-floor area of 33,000 square feet (366 square meters). No information was available on the size of the individual apartment. The building was a wood structure with asphalt shingles. The building was equipped with an unspecified smoke detection system.

The fire caused an estimated $115,000 damage to the structure and $11,500 in damage to its contents.

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 Courtesy of John Fitzhugh/