Author(s): Richard Campbell. Published on September 1, 2019.


Fire incidents from across the country



Furniture store destroyed by fire of unknown cause

A massive late night fire destroyed a two-story wood-frame building housing a furniture store.

Firefighters were dispatched to the fire after 911 callers reported that flames at the structure were extending above roof level. Arriving crews found heavy fire showing from all floors at the rear of the building and heavy smoke at its front. Incident command requested a second alarm upon reaching the scene and advised that crews would mount a defensive fire attack. A third alarm was called 30 minutes into the operation.

Crews used hose lines and deck guns to attack the fire, while seeking to protect adjacent structures that showed signs of radiant heat damage. Crews at the rear of the structure were instructed to remain clear of downed electrical lines that were arcing. An occupant of one of the exposed buildings was unable to evacuate, requiring assistance from firefighters, who extracted him through a second floor window.

News reports indicated that the building’s bowstring-style roof collapsed at approximately 11 p.m. and that crews fought the fire until daybreak. An assistant fire marshal reported that the roof design was subject to failure under heat.

Investigators determined that the fire originated in a corner of a basement-level void space, but heavy fire damage and the building’s collapse prevented identification of the source of ignition.

The building occupied a ground floor area of 4,784 square feet (444 square meters). The building was not equipped with an automatic sprinkler system and it was unclear whether it was protected by smoke alarms.

News coverage reported that the damage from the fire was estimated at $1.5 million.


Tenant injured when candle ignites pillow in hotel

A hotel resident suffered burn injuries after a candle ignited his pillow while he was sleeping.

Firefighters were dispatched to the hotel at 11:30 p.m. by a local alarm monitoring company that had been alerted by the facility’s automatic detection system. Arriving crews reported no signs of fire, but were informed by hotel personnel that there was a fire in a second floor unit.

At an entryway to the second floor, crews donned air masks after encountering moderate smoke, then were met by a hotel employee who informed them that he had extinguished fire on a burning pillow by placing it in a shower.

Crews proceeded to the room and confirmed that the fire was out. Second-floor tenants were evacuated as firefighters initiated ventilation efforts.

Crews learned from the room occupant that he had left a candle burning on a nightstand before falling asleep and that his pillow caught fire as it was pushed into the candle during the night. The hotel employee found the tenant still asleep and the pillow on fire while responding to the hotel’s detection system.

The tenant suffered burn injuries on one of his hands. Medical personnel examined the occupant at the scene, but he declined transport. Fire department reports indicated that he subsequently drove himself to the hospital for treatment of his injuries.

The hotel was a three-story structure and occupied a ground floor area of 11,284 square feet (1,048 meters). It was constructed with a wood and metal frame, a concrete and wood joist floor frame, and had a wood roof deck covered with asphalt shingles.

The fire caused $2,000 damage to building contents, valued at $500,000. There was no damage to the building structure.


Missing smoke detector in fatal apartment fire

One man died when a fire broke out in his bedroom in a multi-unit apartment building, but tenants in other units were alerted by hard-wired smoke detectors and managed to safely evacuate.

Firefighters responded to the scene at 7:21 a.m. after a tenant heard a smoke detector sounding on the second floor and called 911. Arriving crews reported flames coming from two windows of a first floor apartment. Incident command called a second alarm, along with a request for a ladder truck.

Crews stretched a hose to the right front of the building and began to extinguish fire showing through the side windows. A three-person crew entered the apartment and found the occupant on a kitchen chair at the rear of the unit. He was immediately evacuated and turned over to waiting paramedics, who began resuscitation efforts before transporting him to the hospital. The man died from his injuries.

After knocking down the fire on the first floor, crews checked for extension on the second floor and quickly extinguished fire in an apartment above the unit of fire origin.

Investigators determined that the fire began with the ignition of bedding in the first floor bedroom, but could not identify the cause of ignition. During their investigation, investigators determined that a smoke detector was missing from the first floor hallway and found no sign inside the apartment of a detector that should have been wired to the hallway.

The apartment building was a three-story wood structure comprising of five units, with a ground floor area of 2,200 square feet (204 square meters).

The fire caused $200,000 in damage to the building, valued at nearly $300,000, and an additional $40,000 damage to building contents.

Overloaded electrical line blamed for fatal fire in manufactured homes 

Firefighters summoned by a neighbor’s report of a house fire were unable to rescue the two occupants of a manufactured home, which was heavily involved with fire when crews reached the scene.

According to newspaper reports, a neighbor returning from work discovered the fire shortly after 3 a.m. and tried to waken the occupants, but flames were too intense to permit entry.

Investigators determined that the fire started in the kitchen area and was ignited by an overloaded electrical line. After igniting, the fire spread into the living room and towards the bedrooms, where the victims were sleeping.

The house was not equipped with smoke alarms.

The home was constructed with a lightweight wood frame and wood walls, with a roof covered by asphalt shingles. It occupied a ground floor area of 450 square feet (42 square meters).

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

Fire ignited by cigarette claims life of elderly resident 

A late-night fire in a second floor apartment claimed the life of an elderly female resident. Reports indicated that the victim’s ability to escape was limited by a mobility disability.

The fire department was notified of the fire just after 11:30 p.m. following multiple 911 calls. Arriving crews found heavy smoke coming from the second floor of a two-story apartment building and were informed that a resident was possibly still inside.

Incident command conducted a size-up of the building and found fire showing out of second floor windows at the rear and side of the structure. An engine company stretched an attack line to begin knocking down fire through the rear window, then immediately advanced the line into the apartment to control the fire and mount search operations. Crews found the victim on a bedroom floor while advancing the line towards the fire.

Outside the structure, a ladder company placed a ground ladder at the rear of the building in order to access the roof, then conducted vertical ventilation at a corner of the building. The truck’s ladder was positioned for crews to access the roof and create a secondary means of egress. Inside the building, crews from a second engine company conducted a primary search of the second floor.

In order to relieve crews, incident command requested a second alarm, bringing firefighters from three neighboring communities to the scene. Newly arriving companies checked for fire extension and conducted a secondary search of the second floor primary and secondary searches of the first floor and basement.

Investigators determined that the fire was caused by smoking materials, as the victim was smoking in bed. The apartment building was protected by an automatic detection system in common areas which was found to successfully alert building occupants, but local alarms in the units did not operate.

The apartment building contained six units and was constructed with a wood frame and brick walls, with a built-up roof cover. It occupied a ground floor area of 6,000 square feet (557 square meters).

News reports indicated that the victim’s apartment was heavily damaged, and the remaining units suffered serious damage from the fire.

Man suffers fatal burn injuries while lighting wood stove

An elderly man with a mobility disability died of burn injuries after his clothing caught fire while he was igniting a wood stove in a shed on his property.

Sheriff’s deputies responded after the victim’s spouse found him in the shed and called 911 at 9:30 a.m. According to a report by the state fire marshal, the victim was on a motorized scooter when he spilled ignitable fluid on his clothing while attempting to light the wood stove. The man and the scooter then caught fire, according to news reports. He was unable to extinguish the flames before succumbing to his injuries.

Reports indicated that the victim’s spouse suffered burn injuries to her hands when she came to his aid.

The fire department indicated that the fire caused no structural damage to the shed.

Candle suspected in fire that kills child, injures two residents 

An early morning fire that may have been started by a candle claimed the life of a 10-year-old child inside a manufactured home.

News reports indicated that neighbors wakened by other occupants of the residence were able to rescue an infant, who was moved to safety after an explosion near the home’s entrance.

Firefighters summoned by a 911 call arrived to find a fully involved fire. Crews reported heavy fire extending from the front and rear at the center of the structure, with heavy smoke emitting from the ends of the home where bedrooms were located.

Crews pulled hose lines to the front door, which was found open, and began suppression efforts. While battling the fire, crews also began to remove sections of exterior siding in order to gain better access to the structure.

Incident command requested a count of the number of people believed to be inside the home at the time of the fire. It was determined that two adults and four children resided at the home. The adults and two children were found at the scene across the street, while the rescued infant was being evacuated by a medical flight to a hospital.

Two other residents of the home were transported to the hospital with smoke inhalation injuries.

When crews were able to enter the structure, they found the body of the child who was not accounted for in the kitchen and secured the area for investigators. The victim’s body was transported to the medical examiner’s office after the medical examiner and representatives from law enforcement completed their examination.

Investigators determined that the fire began in the kitchen area. While unable to establish definite cause, they believed that the fire may have been ignited by a candle. Neighbors indicated that the area had been without power for several days following a hurricane.

The residence was not equipped with automatic detection equipment.

The home occupied a ground floor area of 840 square feet (78 square meters) and was constructed with wood walls and a metal roof deck and cover.

The structure and contents, valued at nearly $13,000, were a total loss.

Two die in apartment with no working smoke alarms

Heavy smoke from a smoldering fire on a piece of living room furniture caused the deaths of an elderly couple.

Firefighters responded to the scene after an early morning 911 report of a residential fire. Arriving crews easily extinguished a smoldering fire on an ottoman in an apartment at the rear of a single-story residence.

Investigators determined that the fire started when heat from a light bulb caused the furniture to ignite. The ottoman was pressed against a wall lamp after being placed on a shelf to avoid anticipated flood damage.

According to investigators, the residence was not equipped with working smoke alarms.

News reports on the fire provided information about the fire department’s free smoke alarm installation program and about requirements for landlords to provide working smoke alarms.

The apartment was located at the rear of a single-story house and occupied 560 square feet (52 square meters). The structure was a wood construction with a concrete floor frame.

Damage from the fire was estimated at $6,000.

Furniture fire starts house blaze that kills child 

A house fire claimed the life of a young child who couldn’t be located after the fire was discovered by other family members shortly before 8 a.m.

The fire department was dispatched following a 911 call from the residence reporting a fire with possible entrapment. Arriving firefighters found a single-story residence fully involved with fire and immediately called for additional resources.

The first-arriving crews deployed a hand line and started attacking the fire at the front of the house in an effort to gain access to the interior, but fire was extensive and venting through the roof, limiting crews to an exterior attack. Other companies began arriving on the scene, and incident command directed one department to establish a water shuttle, with all engine companies assigned to assist fire attack. News reports indicated that 13 fire department vehicles responded to the fire and that crews battled the fire for 30 minutes before bringing it under control.

When conditions permitted entry, a search team made an initial sweep of the residence, but were unsuccessful in locating the victim. A second search was conducted after the fire was extinguished and smoke had cleared, and crews were then able to locate the victim in a bedroom. Overhaul efforts were paused while a coroner was summoned to the scene.

Investigators determined that the fire was first ignited on a living room sofa. In post-fire interviews with the homeowners, investigators learned that the child was watching television in the living room while family members were engaged in other morning activities. After smelling smoke, the father found that the living room sofa was on fire, with no sign of the child. He attempted to pull the sofa out of the house, but it became wedged in the doorway, and he broke windows in order to get back inside, where he alerted other family members and searched for the child. He evacuated the house when smoke and heat became too intense.

After examining the scene, the investigators concluded that the fire had been ignited by matches that had been left on a fireplace mantel in the living room.

The home was equipped with a smoke alarm, but it was found to be inoperable.

The house was a wood frame structure with a brick exterior and cement floor frame. It occupied a ground floor area of 1,200 square feet (111 square meters).

The house and contents, together valued at $200,000, were a total loss.

Sprinkler controls fire when power strip overheats on mattress 

Firefighters were called to a multi-family housing complex shortly after 11 p.m. by reports of a fire in a bedroom.

As fire crews arrived at the scene, they found smoke coming from the first-floor area at one end of a 24-unit apartment building that primarily housed college students. Crews proceeded to a third-floor unit where the fire originated and found that a sprinkler was controlling a fire under a mattress in the bedroom. Crew members completely extinguished the fire and turned off the sprinkler system, then ventilated the building.

Occupants of the unit told investigators that they had been playing video games in the bedroom and had momentarily moved to the kitchen when smoke alarms started sounding. They returned to the bedroom and found the bed skirt on fire on one side of the bed. The occupants called 911 after making unsuccessful attempts to extinguish the fire with water.

One of the occupants suffered minor burn injuries to his hand while trying to move items off the bed.

In the bedroom, investigators found that a computer tablet and chargers were plugged into a power strip on top of the bed underneath a pillow and that the circuit to the bedroom outlets was tripped in the circuit panel. They determined that the fire began when the power strip overheated and ignited the pillow, with fire then spreading to the mattress.

The entire building was protected by a wet pipe sprinkler system, with local fire alarms in apartment units that would be activated by water flow of the sprinkler system.

The apartment building was a three-story structure occupying a ground floor area of 4,000 square feet (372 square meters). The building was a wood structure, with a lightweight wood floor frame and roof covered with asphalt shingles.

The fire was confined to the bedroom, with damage estimated at between $5,000 and $10,000 to the room and contents.

Child playing with lighter ignites fatal house fire 

A child playing with a lighter started a house fire that killed a man.

The fire department was summoned to the scene by a 911 call from the homeowner at 6:10 p.m. According to newspaper reports, the victim was injured after going back inside the residence to make sure everyone was outside. The reports indicated that he was airlifted to the burn center for treatment of his injuries. He died after several days in a hospital burn center.

Investigators learned that a child ignited the fire while playing with a lighter underneath the structure.

The house was a two-story wood structure with a metal roof cover. The house, valued at $102,000, and its contents, valued at $30,000, were a total loss.

Man succumbs to injuries after falling into burning leaf pile 

An elderly man with limited physical mobility died as a result of thermal injuries he suffered after falling into a ditch that contained leaves he was burning.

A neighbor called 911 after seeing the victim having trouble exiting the ditch due to its steep slope. Firefighters responding to the call were able to pull the victim out of the ditch while knocking back the fire.

The man exhibited burn injuries, and EMS crews arrived and quickly loaded the victim into an ambulance and transported him to a local hospital. He was transferred to a regional hospital, where he succumbed to the injuries the following day.

Cooking fire is extinguished by activated sprinkler 

A pan of cooking oil ignited on a kitchen stove inside an apartment, but the unit’s sprinkler system activated, extinguishing the fire and preventing it from spreading through the residence.

Firefighters were dispatched by an alarm company after the sprinkler system activated at approximately 3 p.m. Arriving firefighters found that the fire had been extinguished by a single sprinkler head in the kitchen. They checked to make sure that the fire was completely out, then shut down the sprinkler system and ventilated the apartment.

The fire started when a pan of oil heating on a stove burner flashed to flame, immediately activating the sprinkler in the kitchen.

The apartment was a two-story unit with a ground floor area of 1,100 square feet (102 square meters). The building was constructed with a wood frame and stucco walls, a wood roof deck, and asphalt shingles. Information on the number of units in the entire apartment complex was not available.

The fire caused an estimated $5,000 in damage to the structure and $500 in damage to apartment contents.

Man dies while trying to fight fire in his home 

An early morning residential fire claimed the life of a man who attempted to extinguish the blaze by himself before being overcome by products of combustion.

Firefighters were alerted to the fire by a passerby, who called 911 on his cell phone at 4:25 a.m. Newspaper reports indicated that the house was well-involved with fire when firefighters reached the scene. Two police officers had already unsuccessfully tried to kick down a door in a rescue effort.

When crews had brought the fire under sufficient control to permit entry, a rescue team found the victim near a side door. He was determined to have already succumbed to smoke inhalation injuries.

One firefighter suffered unspecified minor injuries during extinguishment and was transported to a local hospital for treatment.

Investigators determined that the fire started when an electrical fault in an extension cord ignited a carpet and fire then spread to a bed. The victim at some point tried to extinguish the fire with a fire extinguisher before being overcome by smoke.

In newspaper accounts, a fire department official cautioned the public to exit the house and wait for the fire department rather than attempt to fight a fire themselves.

The house was a two-story wood structure that occupied a ground floor area of 867 square feet (80 square meters).

The house was equipped with two smoke alarms, but they were not operational.

The house, valued at $33,000, suffered $15,000 in damage, with an additional $5,000 in damage to its contents.

Science Laboratory 

Sprinkler extinguishes science laboratory fire caused by overheated electrical parts 

Firefighters responded to reports of a fire at a marine science laboratory. Crews arriving at the scene discovered that a fire in a second-floor laboratory had been almost completely extinguished by the facility’s sprinkler system.

Firefighting crews responded to the fire after the fire department received notification of the incident by a box alarm at approximately 9 a.m.

Arriving crews advanced a hose line to the second floor of the three-story laboratory building, where the fire had apparently originated. Firefighting crews were reportedly able to use a small pump can to extinguish a minimal amount of remaining fire. Following extinguishment of the fire, firefighting crews secured the sprinkler system and proceeded to ventilate the area.

Investigators determined that the fire was caused by overheated electrical parts in a piece of electronic equipment located on a laboratory workbench. No additional information was available on the incident.

The building where the science laboratory was located was a four-story structure and was constructed with block walls, a wood roof frame and deck, and a concrete floor frame. It occupied a ground floor area of 6,000 square feet (557 square meters). The entire facility was protected by a wet-pipe sprinkler system.

The fire resulted in damage to electrical equipment, a wall, and the ceiling of the laboratory facility before the building’s sprinkler system was activated.

Damage to the building, valued at $20 million, which was estimated at $15,000. There was an additional $15,000 in damage to the contents of the building, which were valued at $3 million.

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:Jane Tyska/Media News Group/The Mercury News via Getty Images