Author(s): Richard Campbell. Published on September 1, 2020.


Fire incidents from across the country




Electrical fault ignites fatal fire

An early morning fire caused by an electrical fault claimed the life of an elderly woman in a single-family home.

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.

Early morning fire claims life of female resident

An elderly woman died in an early morning fire that investigators believe was ignited by either smoking materials or a burning candle.

The fire department was dispatched to the scene shortly before 7 a.m. when neighbors saw flames and dark smoke coming from the victim’s apartment, according to news reports. Arriving crews reported fire showing from the rear and one side of a single-story duplex apartment.

Following a complete exterior circuit of the structure by incident command, crews advanced a hose line into the structure and began attacking fire in the living room, where they reported high heat and thick smoke to floor level. Crews then moved down a hallway and extinguished fire along the side of the structure while using a thermal imager to search for occupants. Crews continued to extinguish fire while moving to a bedroom and attached bathroom at the rear of the unit.

As visibility began to improve through vertical ventilation and a positive pressure fan, crews found the body of the occupant in the rear bedroom, already deceased. Incident command was notified and the scene was secured pending arrival of fire investigators and the medical examiner.

Investigators determined that the fire began at or near the foot of the bed in the rear bedroom. Due to the amount of destruction, investigators were unable to establish the cause of the fire, but identified smoking materials or a burning candle as potential sources of ignition.

According to media accounts, firefighters reported that they didn’t hear smoke detectors sounding upon arrival, leading fire officials to urge community members to check their smoke detectors and ensure that they were operational.

The fire caused $75,000 in damage to the building, valued at $233,000, and $50,000 in damage to contents, valued at $115,000.

Arson suspected in fire that kills one, injures five at apartment complex

A late afternoon fire that began in an apartment building’s elevator car claimed the life of one resident and injured five others.

Firefighters were dispatched to the fire by an alarm monitoring company at 4:40 p.m. following activation of a pull station in the building’s main lobby. While en route to the scene, crews were informed that numerous residents reported being trapped on the third floor, where smoke detectors had activated.

Arriving crews reported that heavy smoke was showing from the roof and two sides of a large, four-story apartment complex. Building evacuation was in progress, but crews noted that several residents were at their windows or on balconies on the third floor, unable to evacuate due to heat and smoke conditions.

Firefighters set up ground ladders and a ladder truck to rescue occupants from the third floor, while attack crews responded to the third floor to locate and extinguish the fire. Interior crews located heavy fire in a third-floor elevator, with high heat and heavy smoke in the hallway. Crews stretched a hose from a standpipe on the second floor and extinguished the fire.

After knocking the fire down, crews found a male victim in the hallway and were assisted by crew members checking for extension in transporting him outside. Crews initiated resuscitation efforts until an ambulance team assumed patient care and transported the victim to the hospital, but he later succumbed to his injuries.

Crews set up ventilation and set up gas monitoring after the fire was determined to be out. Crews also rescued a number of pets left behind in apartments.

News accounts indicated that firefighters rescued approximately 10 residents. Five residents were transported to the hospital with smoke-inhalation injuries.

Investigators determined that the fire began when an open flame ignited garbage in the third-floor elevator. The cause of the fire was classified as undetermined, but the state fire marshal sought tips from the public on the cause and a reward was subsequently offered by a state arson committee for information, according to news reports.

The apartment complex contained 90 units. All common areas of the building were protected by smoke detectors monitored by a central station. Eight families were said to be displaced by the fire.

The building was constructed with concrete floor framing, with steel roof framing, a concrete roof deck, and tar roof covering. It occupied a ground floor area of 30,000 square feet (2,787 square meters).

No information was available on the economic losses related to the fire.

Apartment resident dies in early morning fire

An early morning fire at an apartment complex claimed the life of a female resident, but firefighters were able to prevent the fire from spreading to other units.

The fire department was dispatched to a 32-unit apartment complex at 5:15 a.m. following multiple calls to 911. Arriving crews found flames coming from the windows of a second-floor apartment at one side of a two-story structure. Incident command called for a second alarm shortly afterwards due to the intensity of the fire and the potential need for additional help in evacuating the units.

A complete circuit of the structure indicated that fire had not extended to the opposite side of the building. Crews inside the building forced their way into three units and found two units vacant and the third unoccupied.

Crews pulled hose lines and performed an exterior attack from a courtyard area while preparing to transition into the building. Once inside, crews found that most of the fire had been knocked down. Crews pulled ceilings inside the unit of origin and found no active fire. The victim’s body was found inside a closet, where it was secured until transport by personnel from the coroner’s office.

Building managers and the Red Cross assisted an estimated 40 to 50 residents who had been evacuated in finding temporary shelter.

Investigators were unable to identify the cause of the fire due to the level of destruction. Smoke alarms inside the apartment were equipped with batteries, but investigators were unsure if they operated. Investigators credited a number of smoke walls in the attic with helping to contain the fire to a single unit.

The fire caused $50,000 in damage to the building, valued at $500,000, and $15,000 in damage to contents, valued at $20,000.

Sprinkler extinguishes apartment fire

An apartment’s sprinkler system successfully extinguished a fire that began when discarded smoking materials ignited a chair while the unit’s resident was visiting a neighbor, according to a fire department report.

The fire department was dispatched to the scene by a central station alarm at 10:30 a.m. The fire broke out in one unit of a large apartment complex.

Arriving crews found a large amount of smoke in an exterior hallway and the interior of the apartment, but no remaining fire. Two residents of the unit experienced minor smoke inhalation injuries.

According to investigators, one of the residents unknowingly dropped smoking materials on a living room chair before leaving the apartment to visit a friend. Upon returning 15 minutes later, the resident discovered that the sprinkler system and alarm had activated and that smoke had spread into the hallway through an open doorway.

The apartment complex was comprised of approximately 70 units in a five-story building that was constructed with concrete. All units were equipped with multiple smoke alarms and wet-pipe sprinkler systems.

The fire caused $80,000 in damage to the building, valued at $20 million, and an additional $50,000 in damage to contents.

Unattended cooking materials blamed for fatal apartment fire

An early morning fire ignited by unattended cooking materials claimed the life of a female occupant who was asleep inside her apartment.

Firefighters were dispatched to the scene shortly after 7 a.m. following a 911 call by a neighbor. Arriving crews reported smoke showing from the eaves of a single-story, two-unit residence. Firefighters forced open the front door to mount an interior attack and were able to quickly extinguish a fire that was contained to cabinetry in the kitchen area over the stove.

Crews extinguished all visible fire, then began inspecting the attic space for extension and venting the structure of smoke. Crews found the female occupant in a corner of a room at the rear of the apartment and immediately transported her outside to a medical team. She was pronounced dead as a result of smoke inhalation injuries.

Crews reentered the apartment and extinguished remaining hot spots before turning the scene over to investigators from the police department.

Fire department investigators determined that a pan of cooking oil had been left on a stove top with the burner still on. The cooking oil ignited and fire spread to cabinets over the stove. Investigators believe that the occupant may have been awakened by a neighbor knocking on her door, but she was unable to evacuate because an air conditioner in a nearby window obstructed her exit.

A battery-operated smoke detector inside the apartment had been dismantled and was inoperable.

The building was a wood-frame construction with brick walls. The victim’s apartment occupied an area of 324 square feet (30 square meters).

The fire caused $6,000 in damage to the building, valued at $35,000, and $1,500 in damage to contents, valued at $3,000.

Two die in fire ignited by candles during power outage

An elderly couple died in an early evening fire that began when candles ignited paper goods during a power outage caused by a hurricane.

The fire department was called to the scene by a neighbor who spotted the fire and called 911 at 7 p.m.

News reports indicated that arriving firefighters found heavy fire conditions showing from the roof of the house. Strong winds were said to have prevented crews from quickly entering the residence. After bringing the fire under control, crews found the victims inside, already deceased.

One firefighter was transported to the hospital with minor injuries, according to news reports.

Investigators determined that the fire began on a living room table, where candles ignited unspecified paper goods, and the resulting fire then spread to a nearby sofa.

Investigators found a smoke detector on the hallway floor but were unable to determine if it was operational.

The house was a single-story wood construction with brick exterior walls. It occupied a ground floor area of 2,400 square feet (223 square meters).

The fire caused $150,000 in damage to the structure, valued at $225,000, and $70,000 in damage to its contents, with an estimated value of $75,000.

No working smoke detectors in fatal kitchen fire

An early evening kitchen fire claimed the life of a male resident, who neighbors indicated had a history of falling asleep while cooking.

Firefighters were dispatched at 6:16 p.m. by a report of a structure fire and reached the scene four minutes later.

Arriving crews observed no signs of fire showing from a large residential apartment building. People who were gathered outside at the front of the structure reported that a resident in one of the first-floor units had fallen asleep on multiple occasions while cooking food.

Firefighters reported a moderate haze upon entering the building with a thermal imaging camera and water can. Crews were initially unable to pinpoint the source of the smoke, but an engine company noted an apartment door was warm to the touch and promptly forced entry.

Inside, the unit was filled with heavy black smoke, and crews reported mild heat but no flames. Crews requested that a hose be pulled to the unit.

Shortly after entering, firefighters found the victim, who was unconscious, and immediately transported him outside for emergency medical personnel. Medical personnel began treating the victim and transported him to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead shortly after arrival.

No extinguishment was necessary inside the victim’s apartment. Heavy fire in the kitchen area and stove suggested that the victim had attempted to extinguish the fire before being overcome by smoke. Smoke was banked down to the floor, but the fire self-extinguished when it became starved of oxygen. A smoke detector found inside the apartment had no battery.

The apartment building was a two-story structure, but no information was available on its size or the number of units in the complex.

The fire caused $5,000 in damage to the structure, valued at $191,000, and $2,000 in damage to contents, valued at $400,000.

Sprinkler system extinguishes apartment fire

Firefighters responding to an automatic fire alarm arrived to find that an apartment’s sprinkler system had already extinguished a kitchen fire, according to a fire department report.

Crews were dispatched to the scene by a 911 call from the unit’s occupant as well as an alarm monitoring company at approximately 9 a.m.

Arriving crews found that a pan of cooking oil had been left unattended on a stovetop burner in the kitchen on the second-floor of a three-unit apartment building. Crews indicated that the unit was equipped with a dry-pipe sprinkler system and that a single sprinkler opened and successfully extinguished the fire.

The fire caused no injuries, but 16 residents of the building’s three units were temporarily displaced by the fire. The Red Cross was said to be working with the displaced persons to find temporary shelter.

The apartment building was a three-story wood structure and occupied a ground floor area of 1,200 square feet (111 square meters).

The fire caused $25,000 in damage to the building, valued at $240,000, and $5,000 in damage to apartment contents, valued at $100,000.


Restaurant fire causes $1 million in damage

Heat from a restaurant oven exhaust pipe ignited an afternoon fire that caused an estimated $1 million in damage and sent two people to the hospital with smoke inhalation injuries, according to news reports. One firefighter was injured battling the hard-to-reach fire.

Firefighters were sent to the scene after receiving an emergency call reporting a commercial fire at 3:05 p.m. The arriving crews observed heavy black smoke showing from a rear corner of the single-story building. Fire crews were able to determine that all employees had evacuated the restaurant, which was preparing to open for the day’s business.

Incident command conducted a 360-degree walk-around of the structure and designated crews for fire attack and roof ventilation. Attack crews secured water from a nearby hydrant and entered the facility, where light smoke was visible in the kitchen area.

Interior crews found that the facility’s sprinkler system had contained the fire at floor level, but that there was active fire in the void space above the ceiling, which extended upward into the attic and vented out through the roof. Crews brought the fire under control approximately 30 minutes after arrival at the fire, and the last firefighting units cleared the scene shortly after 6 p.m.

The injured firefighter strained his shoulder while using hand tools on the restaurant’s roof. He received first aid for his injury but did not require hospitalization.

Investigators determined that the fire originated in the void space for a pizza oven’s exhaust pipe, where heat from the pipe ignited wooden structural elements before spreading.

The fire caused $700,000 in damage to the building, valued at $1.2 million. The contents, with an estimated value of $300,000, were a total loss.

The building was constructed with a stucco exterior and had a mansard-style roof covered with concrete tiles. There was no information was available on the surrounding area occupied by the structure.


Fire in residential care facility kills two, injures one

Smoking materials were blamed for an early morning fire at an adult residential care facility that killed two people and injured a third.

The fire department was called to the scene at 1 a.m. after residents made unsuccessful efforts to extinguish the fire themselves.

Arriving firefighters encountered heavy flames showing from the front of the two-and-a-half-story structure, according to news accounts.

According to the reports, most residents were able to evacuate the facility, but crews used a ladder to access a second-floor bedroom at the rear of the structure, where they pulled out one of the victims, a male in his late teens. The victim was transported to a hospital and later succumbed to smoke-inhalation injuries.

The reports indicated that the second male victim was also found in a second-floor bedroom and carried down the front stairs by firefighters on the scene. Attempts to revive the victim at the scene were unsuccessful. A third occupant was taken to a local hospital for treatment of smoke inhalation injuries.

Investigators determined that the fire began as a result of a resident smoking a cigarette on the front porch before heading inside. They believe the cigarette fell and was lodged beneath a chair cushion, where it ignited the cushion and spread to other combustibles on the covered porch before fire entered the structure through a window. As front and rear doors were opened for evacuation, strong winds facilitated the rapid spread of fire throughout the inside of the residential care facility.

The facility was equipped with interconnected smoke alarms on each level of the structure and in every bedroom. Testing showed that the fire alarm system did work initially, but that it was not operating when firefighters arrived at the scene, the fire department reported. The reports conclude that the main floor alarm arced and caused the breaker to trip. In addition, the batteries fell out of the smoke detectors when they were impacted by heat from the fire.

The residence was a wood structure with an asphalt roof covering. 

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