Author(s): Richard Campbell. Published on February 8, 2021.


Fire incidents from across the country



Cutting torch ignites massive fire during renovation work

A massive fire at a vacant commercial building was ignited by a cutting torch during renovation work at the site, according to fire investigators.

The fire department was called to the scene at 4:50 p.m. after work had been completed for the day. Arriving crews reported heavy fire venting through the roof of a two-story structure, a former factory that was being converted to a warehouse.

Crews initially pulled a handline to begin extinguishment efforts, but incident command quickly determined that the amount of fire in the building required a defensive operation. Crews proceeded to establish water supplies and set up three aerial ladders for fire attack.

Crews flowed water on the fire from aerial positions for several hours before enough of the fire was knocked down to permit crews to pull hoses into the structure to extinguish hot spots.

Firefighters remained on the scene throughout the night in order to monitor the potential for hot spots and fire extension.

Investigators determined that the blaze had been ignited in a crawl space between floors of the structure, where torches were being used to cut steel pipe and beams on the building’s roof. Investigators believed that roofing materials may have caught fire and remained in a smoldering stage for a period of time, including when workers at the site left for the day.

The building occupied a ground floor area of 47,432 square feet (4,407 square meters).

The fire resulted in an estimated $500,000 damage to the structure, which was valued at $2 million. Damage to the contents, which were valued at just over $1 million, was estimated at $265,000.


Hoarding conditions hamper
rescue efforts in fatal house fire

Firefighters responding to an early morning house fire were hampered by hoarding conditions as they attempted to rescue the occupants of the single-story residence. One occupant died and a second was injured in the fire. A firefighter also suffered a laceration injury to his hand while providing suppression support.

Firefighters were dispatched to the scene at 1:52 a.m. following a phone call from one of the occupants, who reported a structure fire with a person trapped.

An arriving engine company was able to confirm that an occupant was still inside the house and unable to evacuate on her own due to a mobility disability. Crews reported smoke showing from all the eaves of the house, but no visible flames.

Crews pulled a hose line to the front door and formed a rescue team, adding a second line with the arrival of additional personnel. Rescue crews working inside the residence were slowed by piles of accumulated material that provided little open space to maneuver.

As interior operations continued, flames began to show from an attached garage. Crews from a ladder company entered the garage through an overhead door and extinguished the fire.

One of the home’s occupants who had been waiting at the scene was subsequently transported to the hospital after requesting medical assistance.

After much effort by multiple crew members, the rescue team was able to successfully remove the victim to the exterior, where she was evaluated by a medical team and found to be deceased. A coroner was notified and the victim was transported to the local morgue.

Shortly after removal of the victim, there was a partial roof collapse and extreme fire growth over the garage, and all personnel were evacuated from the structure. Extinguishment was completed from the exterior.

Investigators determined that the fire began in the garage area, where a hobby aircraft had been placed on a foam recliner cushion as its battery was being recharged. Thermal runaway of the lithium ion battery ignited the seat cushion and eventually caused a flashover in the garage, where considerable material, including ten gallons of gasoline, was stored.

With the exception of a smoke detector in the attic, batteries had been removed from all smoke detectors inside the residence, causing a delay in the fire’s detection by the residents.

The residence was a single-story wood structure, with a partial brick veneer. It occupied a ground-floor area of 3,156 square feet (293 square meters).

Damage to the structure, valued at $200,000, was estimated at $100,000. The fire caused an addition $30,000 in damage to the contents, valued at $50,000.

Sprinkler extinguishes fire started
by child playing with lighter

An apartment fire ignited by a child playing with a lighter was extinguished by the unit’s sprinkler system before the fire could spread, according to fire department reports.

Firefighters were dispatched to a multifamily apartment complex by a report of an alarm activation at 9:13 a.m. Arriving crews reported no signs of fire from the building exterior. A building occupant met crews at the front door and advised them of an active fire in an upstairs unit.

Firefighters deployed two hose lines and pulled them into the building while other crew members began evacuating occupants from the building.

Crews advanced with the primary attack line to an apartment on the second floor, where they found that the sprinkler system had activated and already extinguished the fire. No signs were found of additional fire spread.

Crews installed sprinkler wedges into the activated sprinkler head in order to control water flow and called the utility company to cut power to the main apartment and two adjoining apartments that experienced water damage.

Investigators determined that that the fire started when the child used a lighter to ignite a plastic toy that was sitting on a carpeted floor of the apartment. Sprinklers activated and were able to confine the fire to the toy and immediate carpet area.

The apartment building was a two-story structure. No additional information was available on its size or structural elements.

The fire caused $40,000 in damage to the structure, valued at $840,000, and $6,000 in damage to contents, valued at $8,000. There were no injuries.

Space heater ignites fatal fire

A teenaged boy died in a midday house fire that was started by a space heater.

Firefighters were dispatched to the scene after a neighbor heard explosions and saw fire at the residence and called 911 at 3:38 p.m.

Arriving crews found heavy smoke and fire venting from living room windows at the front and one side of the house. Nearby residents were unsure if occupants were in the home but reported that a teenage resident had been seen entering the residence sometime earlier.

As crews entered the house to initiate a transitional fire attack, they were joined by a rescue team, which began searching for possible occupants. A backup line was stretched to the front door, but interior crews were able to contain the fire to the living room and bring it under control within minutes.

Search crews found the occupant on the floor of his bedroom and moved him outside, where medical personnel assumed care and transported him to a local hospital.

News reports indicated that the victim succumbed to smoke inhalation injuries later that night after being transferred to a children’s hospital.

Investigators determined that the fire began when a portable space heater ignited the fabric of a couch in the living room. Reports indicated that the space heater had been operating all day and was located less than three feet from the couch.

Phone calls showed that the victim became aware of the fire and attempted to escape, but found his exit blocked and retreated back to his bedroom. Hoarding conditions, as well as physical and cognitive challenges, were reported to have complicated the victim’s ability to escape.

The residence was not equipped with automatic detection equipment.

In news reports of the fire, the fire department’s deputy chief cautioned the public that it was not the first fire of the year caused by a space heater, and that combustible objects located too close to a space heater will eventually get hot enough to produce a fire.

The house was a single-story wood structure with a ground floor area of 960 square feet (89 square meters).

The fire caused an estimated $25,000 in damage to the building, valued at $100,000, and $15,000 in damage to its contents, valued at $25,000.

Candle ignites fatal fire

One man died in a late-night fire that began when a candle ignited nearby combustibles and spread to nearby furnishings and wood-paneled walls.

Firefighters were dispatched to the scene after a passerby spotted the fire and called 911 at 11:45 p.m.

Arriving crews encountered heavy smoke conditions after making a forced entry into the residence. Crews located the seat of the fire in the basement and completed extinguishment in approximately 15 minutes. Crews found the body of the home’s lone occupant below a front window after the fire was brought under control.

News reports indicated that the passerby who initially spotted the fire attempted to kick in the door, but was driven back by heavy smoke.

Investigators determined that the fire began in the basement, where a candle ignited plastic and paper before spreading to the walls via furnishings and extending to the ceiling. The fire caused heavy fire, smoke, and soot damage in the basement, and heavy smoke and soot damage on the first floor.

The house was not equipped with automatic detection equipment.

The residence was a single-story structure with a wood frame and walls and an asphalt roof cover. It occupied a ground floor area of 525 square feet (49 square meters).

The fire caused $50,000 in damage to the residence, valued at $100,000, and $5,000 in damage to the contents, with an estimated value of $10,000.

Man dies in early morning house fire

Investigators believe that an early morning house fire that claimed the life of a male occupant was caused by an electric heater that toppled over, setting fire to the floor.

The fire department was notified of the fire when a passing vehicle called 911 from a cell phone at 3:09 a.m. Multiple mutual aid companies were summoned to assist with response.

Arriving firefighters reported that one side of the house was fully engulfed in flames. Crews had difficulty accessing fire hydrants due to snow conditions and discovered that one nearby hydrant was not operational. Reports also indicated that firefighters had difficulty maneuvering inside the house due to hoarding conditions.

Crews found the victim’s body following extinguishment. Fire department reports indicated that the victim had a mobility disability.

Investigators determined that the fire began when an electric heater either fell or was knocked over and ignited the wood floor, with fire then spreading to the walls and other structural elements of the house.

The house did not have a heating system, according to news accounts of the fire.

The house was a single-story wood structure with a ground floor area of 6,000 square feet (557 square meters).

The house and contents, collectively valued at $1.1 million, were a total loss.

Unattended cooking materials
blamed for fatal house fire

One man died in a house fire that began when cooking materials ignited on the kitchen stove while he rested in another room.

Firefighters were dispatched to the scene following a neighbor’s call to 911 at 1:20 a.m.

Police officers were first to reach the location and reported a working house fire. Officers were unable to make contact with anyone inside and breached a sliding glass door at the rear of the house in an effort to enter, but were driven back by heavy smoke conditions.

Firefighters arrived soon after and began suppression efforts, bringing the fire under control in approximately 38 minutes. Crews found the victim in a living room chair in front of a television, already deceased.

County fire investigators were requested to report to the scene to help determine the origin and cause of the fire.

Investigators determined that one of the burners on the kitchen stove ignited food and other materials on top of the stove and that the ensuing fire spread vertically and horizontally throughout the kitchen and into the eaves and attic area.

The residence was not equipped with automatic detection equipment.

The house was a single-story wood structure with a gable roof and full block foundation. It occupied a ground floor area of 2,800 square feet (260 square meters).

No information was available on the dollar loss from the fire.

Fire claims life of man working
on car engine in basement of house

One person died in a house fire that began when flammable vapors were ignited by heating equipment in the basement of a home.

The fire department was dispatched to the scene after the victim called 911 to report the fire at 1:30 p.m.

Arriving crews reported heavy fire in the ground-floor garage and basement areas of a three-story row house. The victim’s wife informed crews outside the house that her husband was still inside.

An engine crew pulled an attack line through the garage door to begin extinguishment while rescue teams began searching the first and second floors. A second hose line was pulled through a back entrance, where crews began attacking the seat of the fire in the ground floor basement.

Crews reported that the fire kept flaring back up during extinguishment efforts and determined that the fire was being fed by gas after noting bright orange and blue flames that spread across the floor. Once the fire was brought under control, crews found the body of the victim near the basement stairs at the rear entrance.

Incident command requested that fire investigators, a police detective, and the medical examiner’s office be called to the scene.

Investigators found numerous melted gasoline containers in the basement and determined that the fire originated approximately two feet from a utility room, where an automobile fuel tank was located.

Investigators concluded that the victim was transferring gas to or from the fuel tank when the gasoline fumes found an ignition source, possibly from the hot water heater or heating system in the nearby utility room.

The house was not protected by automatic detection equipment.

The house was constructed with a wood frame, block and stucco walls, and a flat roof covered by asphalt. No information was reported on the dimensions of the structure.

The fire caused $40,000 in damage to the house, valued at $110,000, and $10,000 in damage to its contents, estimated at $15,000.

Electric blanket ignites fatal fire

Two people died in an early morning house fire that began when an electric blanket ignited bedding material.

A neighbor called 911 to report the fire at 2:30 a.m. The fire department began receiving additional calls while crews were en route, leading to a second alarm. A third alarm was struck after an additional update indicated that there was a confirmed entrapment.

Arriving crews reported that the two-story residence was fully involved with fire. A neighbor at the scene informed crews that two people were inside and believed to be on the second floor.

The first-arriving engine company pulled a handline to the side of the structure where damage was heaviest to begin fire attack. Another crew deployed a hose at the front of the house, and an additional handline was deployed by the third crew. A fourth line was eventually added after a water supply was established.

The fire was too intense for crews to attempt search operations.

After the fire was knocked down and visibility improved, crews located the bodies of a man and woman on the second floor. The stability of the structure was said to be heavily compromised and portions of the roof had burned off.

The fire marshal responded to the scene to assist with the recovery of the bodies and conduct an investigation. The Red Cross was also contacted to assist residents of the house who had escaped the fire.

Investigators determined that the fire began in a first-floor bedroom after an electric blanket burst into flames, setting fire to the mattress.

Occupants reported that the house had smoke detectors and that they were activated by the fire.

News reports indicated that three residents escaped the fire. All were reported to have suffered minor burn and smoke inhalation injuries, but did not seek hospital treatment.

The house was a wood structure with an asphalt shingle roof. No additional information on the structure was available.

The house was completely destroyed by the fire. No information was available on dollar loss amounts for the house or contents.

Homeless man dies in house fire

A fire in a vacant house killed a homeless man who was burning materials in an improvised firebox for heat.

A passerby spotted the fire and called 911 at 6:59 p.m. Arriving crews reported smoke showing from attic gable vents on both sides of a single-story residence. Crews removed plywood from windows and observed a small fire on the ground floor.

Crews entered the house and knocked down the fire, then searched for fire extension and conducted a primary search. No additional fire was found. While overhauling the structure and checking for hot spots, a firefighter made access to the attic and spotted the victim on the floor, already deceased.

A request was made for a police forensics officer and medical examiner report to the scene.

Investigators determined that the victim was burning light combustibles, including paper and wood, in a tool box in order to stay warm. At some point, the fire spread from the tool box and ignited a mattress, then a portion of the attic floor.

The temperature at the time of the fire was 17 degrees Fahrenheit.

The house was a wood structure with an asphalt shingle roof. It occupied a ground floor area of 1,250 square feet (116 square meters).

No information was available on dollar loss from the fire.


Intentionally set fire
forces school evacuation

Firefighters were dispatched to a middle school after a fire in a trash can activated the school’s alarm system at 11:30 a.m., according to fire department sources.

Arriving firefighters found that the school had been evacuated, and were informed that a fire in a bathroom on the second floor had already been extinguished.

Crews found that the fire was contained to a trash can, where someone had set fire to a roll of paper towels. An administrator who responded to the alarm used a dry powder fire extinguisher to extinguish the fire.

School officials were said to have worked with the fire and police departments to identify the perpetrator, a male student who used a cigarette lighter to ignite the roll of paper towels. News reports indicated that it was the second consecutive day in which an intentional fire had been set in the school. School officials expressed a commitment to promoting fire safety awareness and prevention.

The school was equipped with smoke and heat detectors throughout the building, as well as a wet-pipe sprinkler system. A smoke detector in the bathroom activated the alarm system and prompted the evacuation of the building, but the sprinkler system did not activate due to the quick response.

Damage from the fire was estimated at $250. The value of the building and contents was estimated at $4.8 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: HARRISON JONES