Author(s): Richard Campbell. Published on November 2, 2020.


Fire incidents from across the country



Elderly man dies in house fire

An elderly man died in a late afternoon house fire that began when he applied an ignitable liquid to embers in his woodstove.

The fire department was dispatched to the scene at 4:30 p.m. after the occupant went to a neighboring residence for help. According to news reports, crews observed heavy flames and smoke from every part of the home upon arrival, and photos indicated that crews waged a defensive attack from the exterior of the residence.

News reports indicated that first responders attempted to arrange a medical flight to transport the victim to a burn center, but none were available, so he was taken by ambulance to a regional hospital. The man was said to have succumbed to smoke inhalation and burn injuries shortly after arrival.

It appears from the fire department’s report of the incident that the victim did not realize that embers were still burning when he attempted to apply an unspecified liquid to wood inside the stove.

The house was a single-story structure constructed with a wood frame and brick walls. It occupied a ground floor area of 1,250 square feet (116 square meters).

The fire department reported that the house and contents, collectively valued at $82,000, were a total loss.

Fatal house fire linked to smoking
while using medical oxygen

A late-night house fire that claimed the lives of two elderly sisters began as one of the victims smoked while using medical oxygen, according to fire investigators.

A neighbor called 911 to report a house on fire at 8:42 p.m. Subsequent calls reported an explosion at the site. The reports indicated that occupants were possibly trapped inside the structure.

On arrival, the fire chief reported that a single-story house was fully involved with fire, with two large liquid propane tanks at the side of the house venting flames approximately 20 feet into the air.

As crews arrived, the chief directed them to mount a defensive attack from the exterior of the structure, and firefighters pulled multiple hand lines in their suppression efforts. News reports indicated that crews battled the fire for approximately 45 minutes before they were able to bring it under control.

Following extinguishment, crews found the bodies of two occupants in separate rooms of the structure.

Investigators determined that the fire began when clothing was ignited by a lit cigarette as one of the occupants smoked while using a nasal cannula oxygen delivery device in her bedroom. The fire then spread to other combustible materials inside the room and to structural elements of the house.

The second occupant was believed to have made a rescue attempt before being turned away by the intensity of the fire and being overcome by smoke while trying to escape.

Investigators found no indication that the house was equipped with working smoke detectors.

The house was a wood-frame bungalow structure with a metal roof and occupied a ground floor area of 1,026 square feet (95 square meters).

The house and its contents were a total loss, but no information was available on dollar loss estimates.

Occupant with mobility disability
dies in house fire

A man with a mobility disability died in a mid-afternoon fire that began when embers or burning debris dropped onto a carpet while he tried to stoke a fire in his woodstove, according to investigators.

Firefighters were dispatched to the scene at 2:30 p.m. following a neighbor’s phone call to 911. Arriving crews from an engine company reported that pressurized grey smoke was pushing through the eaves of a single-story home, with smoke and flames showing in the tops of open windows and doors.

Bystanders confirmed that an occupant was known to be trapped inside, and crews initiated a fire attack and entered the structure to locate the occupant. After locating a deceased dog near the doorway, crews knocked back the fire as they moved inside while continuing their search. Crews located the victim in the living room and determined that he was already deceased.

After removing the victim, it took firefighters approximately an hour to bring the fire under control, according to news reports. Reports indicated that the victim relied on a wheelchair and that his ability to evacuate was impeded by excessive furniture.

Investigators were unable to determine if the house was equipped with automatic detection equipment.

The house was a single-story, wood frame structure and occupied a ground floor area of 1,200 square feet (111 square meters).

The house, valued at $125,000, was a total loss, as were its contents, valued at $20,000.

Two occupants rescued after
cigarette ignites kitchen fire

Firefighters rescued two residents who were trapped in a third-floor apartment amid heavy smoke conditions before extinguishing a fire in the unit’s kitchen area.

The apartment’s occupants called
911 after smoke detectors sounded at 8:30 a.m.

Crews arrived to find light smoke showing from a rear corner of a three-story, multi-unit residence. As firefighters exited their vehicles, they reported that a female occupant opened a front window and screamed for help. Reports indicated that the occupant was enveloped in heavy smoke as it pushed out of the window.

Crews requested a second alarm and attempted to position an aerial ladder to evacuate the occupant. Overhanging tree limbs prevented access by the aerial ladder, so a ladder crew positioned a 24-foot ladder against the house and gained entry to the apartment through the window. Inside, they assisted the occupant onto the ladder, which she was able to descend under her own power.

As the rescue took place, crews from an engine company pulled a hand line to the third floor, where they encountered a second occupant who was conscious and able to evacuate without assistance. Crews searched for other occupants until they received word that no one else remained inside. The occupants were transported by ambulance to a local hospital, where they received treatment for smoke inhalation injuries.

Inside the structure, crews extinguished the seat of the fire, which was found in the kitchen, then searched for possible extension in the attic and the remainder of the building. An animal control officer was summoned to take possession of numerous pets removed from the structure, which a local building commissioner determined was temporarily unsafe for occupation.

News reports indicated that the two victims were expected to completely recover.

According to investigators, the fire began when a cigarette was deposited in a recycling bin stored under a countertop in the kitchen, which started a smoldering fire in the bin that ignited wood paneling on the wall and then spread below the countertop. The fire was contained to the area of origin after the fire melted the solder of a hot water pipe and caused it to burst.

The residence was equipped with battery-operated smoke detectors located in the kitchen, living room, and bedroom areas. The detectors operated and successfully alerted the occupants, who were asleep at the time of the alarm.

The apartment was in a three-story, balloon-frame wood structure with a ground floor area of 1,800 square feet (167 square meters).

The fire caused $50,000 in damage to the structure, valued at $339,000, as well as $20,000 in damage to its contents, valued at $150,000.

Two die attempting to fight
apartment fire

An early morning fire at an apartment complex claimed the lives of two residents who investigators believe tried to fight the fire themselves before being overcome by smoke and flames.

The fire department was dispatched to the fire at 2 a.m. following a 911 call from another occupant in the complex, a six-story structure consisting of 74 units.

Arriving firefighters found that a fire that originated in the living room of a third-floor unit had been starved of oxygen and was essentially out. Crews located a male occupant in a bedroom and a female occupant in a bathroom and transported them outside. Both occupants had burn injuries and were unconscious.

Firefighters also found that the kitchen sink was running at the time they entered the apartment.

The male was transported to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead shortly after arrival, according to news reports. The reports indicated that the female was pronounced dead at the scene after being evacuated from the building.

Firefighters used less than 50 gallons of water to extinguish the fire.

Investigators determined that the fire began when an electrical fault ignited wood furnishings in the living room. The fault was traced to an entertainment center, but no additional details were available.

Investigators indicated that hard-wired smoke alarms in the building’s common areas did not activate until approximately 15 minutes after the activation of a battery-operated unit inside the victims’ apartment. They noted that smoke had to escape the apartment through the seal of the apartment door and travel down a hallway to the nearest smoke alarm in order for the building’s alarm system to activate.

It was only after activation of the building alarm that the 911 call was made.

Investigators believe that the burn marks on the victims and running water in the kitchen were indications that the victims were trying to fight the fire themselves. Both victims were found to have alcohol levels that may have interfered with their ability to escape.

The apartment complex was constructed with a wood frame and brick walls and had a rubber membrane roof cover. The building occupied a ground floor area of 16,000 square feet (1,486 square meters).

The fire caused $100,000 in damage to the building, valued at $2.8 million. The apartment’s contents, valued at $250,000, were a total loss.


Man dies in house fire that
spreads to neighboring residence

One man died in an early morning fire that destroyed the victim’s house and also spread to a neighboring residence. The house where the fire originated was not equipped with smoke detectors, according to investigators.

A neighbor called 911 to report the fire at 4:40 a.m., and the fire department reached the scene within six minutes. Arriving crews reported that a two-story residence was already fully involved with flames and had partially collapsed. The entire structure collapsed approximately three minutes later.

As crews began extinguishment, radiant heat and direct flame contact from the fire ignited a fire in an adjacent house. Firefighters forced open the front door of the neighboring residence and pulled a second hand line inside to begin suppression activities. A request was made to notify utility companies to terminate all services to the residence.

Crews deployed a top-mounted deluge gun and an elevated water platform for suppression of the original fire. Once the majority of the flames were extinguished, crews found the remains of the occupant in the debris. A coroner was asked to report to the scene, and the victim’s body was transported to a local hospital for forensic examination.

News reports indicated that the neighboring house, which was reported to be vacant and undergoing renovation, experienced extensive damage.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation. Investigators reported that the house was not equipped with automatic detection equipment.

The house was a wood structure with a ground floor area of 874 square feet (81 square meters).

The house and its contents, together valued at $24,000, were a total loss.

Overheated cellphone may
have started fatal house fire

An early morning fire claimed the life of one child and injured two other residents, according to fire department and news reports.

The fire department was dispatched to the scene just before 2 a.m. when a neighbor called 911 to report that he could hear voices screaming in a nearby house. Arriving firefighters were met by two adults and several police officers outside the residence, where fire was showing in a northwest corner window. Firefighters learned that two children were still inside the house and prepared to initiate a search-and-rescue effort.

Crews pulled a hose through the front door and were met with heavy smoke and fire conditions, but were able to knock down enough fire to begin a search. After moving down a hallway and searching bedrooms on either side, they located the two children in a bedroom at the northeast corner of the house. Crews pulled the children to a window and passed them to personnel outside.

Medical crews attended to the children as interior crews began extinguishing the fire. The children and their mother were transported to a burn center for treatment of their injuries. According to news reports, one of the children later succumbed to injuries caused by smoke inhalation.

Investigators were unable to conclusively identify the cause of the fire, but believe it was caused by an overheated cellphone that ignited a couch in the living room.

Local news coverage indicated that the residence did not appear to have smoke detectors, which the fire chief believed could have prevented the tragedy.

The house was a single-story, wood-frame structure with a brick veneer and occupied a ground floor area of 1,466 square feet (136 square meters).

The home suffered extensive damage from the fire, but no information was available on dollar losses.

Kitchen fire kills elderly couple

An elderly couple died in a house fire that ignited in their kitchen.

Firefighters were called to the scene at 9:30 p.m. by a passerby who spotted the fire and called 911. It was unclear how long the fire had been burning at the time it was detected.

News reports indicated that arriving firefighters heard explosions from inside the residence and that it quickly became too dangerous to fight the fire from inside.

The house was protected by hard-wired smoke detectors with a battery backup, but investigators were unsure if they successfully operated.

The house was a two-story wood structure constructed with a wood frame, floor, and walls. It occupied a ground floor area of 2,579 square feet (239 square meters).

The house and contents, collectively valued at $120,800, were a total loss.


Candle fire sends high school
students on early vacation

A candle flame was blamed for a mid-morning fire in a high school classroom that resulted in an early dismissal one day before winter break.

The fire department was dispatched to the school by an alarm monitoring company after the school’s smoke detectors activated at 10:24 a.m. Arriving crews reported that no smoke was showing from the two-story structure and that all of the students had been evacuated. School personnel were reported to have extinguished the fire.

Crews were directed to a second-floor classroom where the fire originated. They confirmed that the fire had been extinguished, but found that the room was still full of smoke. Crews set up ventilation equipment to evacuate the smoke, but stopped when they determined that opening the windows and doors to allow for natural ventilation was necessary due to the school’s configuration.

Investigators determined that the fire began when a candle in a second-floor classroom ignited paper on a wallboard. No malicious activity was involved, investigators said.

The school was equipped with an automatic smoke detection system with detectors located in hallway areas outside the classrooms. It was not equipped with an automatic sprinkler system.

The school was constructed with a steel frame, metal roof deck, and block walls. The building occupied a ground floor area of 18,900 square feet (1,756 square meters).

No losses from the fire were reported to either the building or its contents, each valued at $1 million.

Small fires at elementary school
found to be intentionally set

Firefighters were dispatched to an elementary school after fire alarms activated at 11:40 a.m.

Arriving firefighters found that the students had been evacuated from the school and that members of the school’s staff had already used fire extinguishers to put out two small fires in separate bathrooms.

There were no injuries, but classes were canceled for the remainder of the day due to smoke conditions. Crews set up ventilation equipment in order to remove smoke from the building.

Investigators determined that a male student had intentionally set fire to two plastic dispensers. School officials and law enforcement were reported to be following up with the student.

No information was available on losses from the fire.


Warehouse fire ignited by
industrial vehicle inside structure

Firefighters were dispatched to a warehouse in the early evening hours after a fire that began in an off-road vehicle inside the structure spread to an interior room, then to the ceiling and roof.

Crews were dispatched to the facility at approximately 7 p.m., and arriving firefighters observed flames inside the structure and on the roof. Incident command instructed crews from a ladder company to stretch a hand line to the interior and begin extinguishment, while an engine company was tasked with securing a water supply from a hydrant.

After an aerial was raised to get an overhead view of the fire, crews pulled an additional hand line into the building to extinguish a fire in a second interior location. Crews gained access to the roof as the fire was brought under control and used power saws to open the roof and extinguish hot spots.

The last crews cleared the scene approximately three and a half hours after arrival.

One firefighter was evacuated from the interior when he became ill while handling a charged hose line during suppression activities. He received oxygen therapy and intravenous fluids from EMS crews and was able to later assist with cleanup activities and finish his shift.

The fire was determined to have originated in the engine of a skid steer loader, which then ignited the wood framing of the structure before spreading to the roof.

The fire caused $20,000 in damage to the vehicle. No information was available on damage to the structure, which was under demolition.


Employee injured when
vape pen explodes

A man suffered burn injuries when a vaping device exploded, resulting in a flash fire at a commercial facility that activated the alarm system.

Firefighters were dispatched at 9:30 a.m. following notification by a central station monitoring company of an alarm activation. Arriving crews reported no fire showing from the exterior of a two-story manufacturing facility. Inside the building, crews found an employee with burn injuries in an office area and learned that a vaping device had exploded in the man’s pocket.

Crews reported that there was no active fire and only minimal damage from the fire to an office chair and clothing. The victim initially declined medical care, but medical personnel determined that he required advanced medical care and requested a medical flight for transport to the hospital.

Reports indicated that the victim was treated for second-degree burns to one of his legs.

Fire causes extensive damage
to automotive repair shop

An early morning fire at an automotive repair facility destroyed several vehicles and caused major structural damage before it was extinguished by a large crew of firefighters.

The fire department was dispatched to the scene at 1:28 a.m. following reports of a commercial fire. Arriving crews reported that a working fire was visible inside a large shop located in an industrial yard. A number of repair bays equipped with large roll-up metal doors ran along one side of the shop.

Crews donned full personal protective equipment and worked their way forward to the front of the building, where fire was visible in the shop area. Before they could begin attacking the fire, crews had to use gas cutting tools to open the metal bay doors and gain access to the interior.

Once inside, crews were able to locate and evaluate the work bays, where they found that the entire interior of the shop had some degree of fire involvement, with much of it concentrated in a front corner area.

Crews used hand lines to begin knocking down the fire at the front of the facility. Although they were able to extinguish most of the fire with water, they used a Class A foam and dry chemical extinguisher in order to completely extinguish burning tires and liquid fuels. The fire department indicated that crews brought the fire under control in just over 30 minutes.

According to news reports, the fire caused nearly $2 million in damage to the building and its contents, including several vehicles. Firefighters were said to have successfully stopped the fire from spreading to an office area and paint booth.

The fire was reported to have started in one of the vehicles inside the facility, but no information was available on the cause of ignition.

Industrial park fire results in
estimated $3 million loss

A massive mid-afternoon fire in an industrial park originated in a wood shop that lacked an automatic sprinkler system and smoke or heat detection systems, according to fire department investigators. The fire caused extensive damage to a building that housed multiple businesses and destroyed a number of vehicles before it was brought under control.

The fire department responded to the fire after a neighbor noticed smoke in the area and called 911 at 2:17 p.m. Arriving firefighters reported a large volume of smoke and fire showing throughout a large, single-story metal commercial structure. Fire from the structure, located in a five-acre industrial park, had also extended to vegetation alongside adjacent railroad tracks and to two smaller structures on the site.

Crews extinguished the vegetation fire and the fires in the smaller structures. The fire in the large metal structure was well-developed prior to the fire department’s arrival, and crews set up a defensive operation at the front corner of the building.

Two ladder trucks were set up at different locations, and crews began applying large volumes of water to the fire. Fences had to be cut so that crews equipped with hoses could access the building perimeter. Rail service was halted while firefighting operations were in progress and the utility company was alerted due to downed power lines around the structure.

Crews poured water on the fire for approximately one hour before it was brought under control and mop-up operations were initiated.

Investigators determined that the fire began in a woodshop, but were unable to identify the exact point of origin or cause due to the extent of the damage. News reports indicated that five other businesses and over 30 vehicles were damaged by the fire.

One firefighter suffered burn injuries to his fingers and another suffered a strain injury during extinguishment activities.

The main building damaged by the fire was a wood and metal structure with a newer membrane roof covering. It occupied a ground floor area of 6,500 square feet (604 square meters).

Investigators noted that the building was located at the rear of a large commercial complex some distance away from surface streets and indicated that an influential factor in the fire’s spread was that it burned for an extended period of time before detection.

Fire department reports did not provide dollar loss estimates of the fire damage, but news reports placed damage estimates at $3 million.

Sprinkler system extinguishes fire
at manufacturing facility

Firefighters who were dispatched to a manufacturing facility by an automatic alarm at 7:30 p.m. discovered that a fire in a piece of machinery had already been extinguished by the facility’s sprinkler system.

The fire began when heat from a buffing machine ignited dust that had built up in the machine’s ventilation system, triggering the alarm.

Arriving firefighters were escorted to the back of the main building, where the company’s emergency response team was disassembling a bank of buffing machines that were involved in the fire.

Crews searched for signs of fire extension, but found that a wet-pipe sprinkler system had completely extinguished the fire with only minor smoke in the area. Crews assisted with removing water from the floor and reset the fire alarm system.

There was no damage to the building, valued at $1.3 million. Damage to the building’s contents was estimated at $1,000.

The building was a two-story structure constructed with a metal frame and roof deck and steel floor and roof framing, with a rubber membrane roof cover. It occupied a ground floor area of 18,000 square feet (1,672 square meters).

Dust explosion causes fire and injuries

Two employees suffered minor injuries in an early morning dust explosion and fire at a food manufacturing facility. The event also resulted in an estimated $3 million in damage.

Firefighters were dispatched to the scene at 12:56 a.m. and arrived to find fire in a load-out shed and grain elevator on the facility grounds. Crews secured a water supply and pulled hoses to extinguish the fire on a conveyor system. After extinguishing the visible flames, crews opened the equipment housing and extinguished the fire on the concealed conveyor belt. Crews then checked for signs of fire extension inside the building.

Security personnel escorted the injured employees to EMS personnel to be checked for possible smoke injuries. Reports indicated that neither employee was transported for medical treatment.

The last crews cleared the scene shortly before 4 a.m.

Investigators determined that the heat from powered equipment ignited the dust explosion in a grain elevator.

The building was a six-story structure that occupied a ground floor area of 27,600 square feet (2,564 square meters).

The fire caused $2 million in damage to the facility property, valued at $10 million. Its contents, valued at $1 million, were a total loss. 
The fire department was dispatched to the scene at 5:57 a.m. following a 911 call by other occupants of the residence who were able to evacuate. Arriving crews reported that the structure was fully involved with fire. Incident command instructed crews to perform a defensive fire attack.

Crews from two engine companies pulled hoses to begin extinguishment. As extinguishment efforts began, police informed incident command that a family member was still inside the residence, but extreme fire conditions prevented crews from performing a primary search. One firefighter was assigned to ensure that crews maintained a safe distance from a downed powerline.

The fire was brought under control approximately 35 minutes after arrival, and a team was assigned to conduct a search of the residence. During the search, the team found the victim in a bed in the living room, already deceased. A request was made for the coroner’s office and police investigators to report to the scene.

Fire investigators determined that the fire began in a bedroom when an electrical fault in an outlet ignited bedding. Occupants initially attempted to extinguish the fire with a pot of water before waking other occupants to evacuate the house. One of the occupants sustained burn injuries while attempting to rescue her mother, who was unable to self-evacuate due to a mobility disability.

There were no working smoke detectors in the residence.

The house was a single-story structure that occupied a ground floor area of 1,500 feet (139 square meters).

The fire caused an estimated $50,000 in damage to the structure, valued at $100,000, and an additional $50,000 in damage to contents, also valued at $100,000.

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: LAFAYETTE FIRE DEPARTMENT