Author(s): Ken Tremblay. Published on November 4, 2014.


Man dies in manufactured home fire

MONTANA—A 50-year-old man died of smoke inhalation during a fire in his three-bedroom manufactured home, which had no smoke alarms or sprinklers.
A neighbor noticed the fire and called 911 at 12:53 p.m. Responding firefighters, who arrived four minutes later, saw smoke when they were still several blocks from the scene. As they began their operations, they could see smoke coming from the home but no flames. When they moved to the end of the trailer where the bedrooms were located, though, they saw flames through the windows.

At about that time, the fire flashed over, filling the interior with flames, and the incident commander began a defensive operation. After crews knocked the heavy fire down, firefighters assigned to conduct a secondary search found the victim in the living room under a china cabinet that had fallen over.
Investigators were told that the home’s electricity had been shut off. Because fire damage was substantially heavier at one end of the dwelling, they determined that the fire started in one of three bedrooms and spread to other parts of the home. However, they could not determine the exact cause of the fire.

The manufactured home, valued at $5,000, was destroyed, as were its contents, valued at $10,000.

Occupants rescued from fire in apartments above nightclub

CALIFORNIA— Three residents of a residential complex located above a nightclub were rescued by firefighters after they were trapped by an early evening fire. The two-story, wood-frame building, which was 150 feet (46 meters) long and 60 feet (18 meters) wide, had battery-operated smoke alarms on the upper floor. There were no sprinklers.

Firefighters who responded to the report of a building fire at 6:23 p.m. arrived to find 25 percent of the upper floor involved in flames. Crews saw the three trapped residents in two locations on the second floor and called in additional resources as they began rescue operations.

Fire crews found two of the residents trapped by smoke in the building’s stairwells and rescued the third with a ladder. All three were transported to the hospital for treatment of their injuries. Thirty-three residents were displaced by the fire, but there were no fatalities.

Investigators were unable to conclusively determine the cause of the fire.

The building and its contents, which together were valued at $1.7 million, sustained property damage estimated at $800,000.

Woman on home oxygen dies in smoking-related fire

CALIFORNIA—A woman with a disability, who needed home oxygen at all times, died in a fire that investigators say began while she was smoking a cigarette on a sofa in her single-family home.

Single-station, battery-operated smoke alarms had been installed in the one-story house, which measured 40 feet (12 meters) by 30 feet (9 meters). However, there were no sprinklers.

Firefighters arriving two minutes after the 911 call quickly controlled the fire and found the victim, whose age was not reported, in the center of the family room at the rear of the house. It appeared the woman, who slept in the family room, was overcome by the smoke and heated gases, and fell to the floor, where she was consumed by fire.

Investigators determined that the victim’s cigarette ignited nearby combustibles and that the fire spread from the room of origin to other parts of the home.

One other resident was rescued from the fire.

Damage to the house was estimated at $90,000 and damage to its contents at $70,000.

Wall-mounted heater ignites combustibles

NEW JERSEY—A fire started by a wall-mounted heater in an eleventh-floor apartment of a high-rise apartment building significantly damaged the unit of origin and injured the occupant and a firefighter.

The 16-story, steel-frame building, which measured 150 feet (46 meters) by 150 feet (46 meters), had a fire alarm system with hardwired smoke detectors and local battery-operated smoke alarms in each unit, as well as a wet-pipe sprinkler system.

The resident of the apartment of origin was drying her hair in a bathroom when the power went off. She looked at the apartment’s breaker panel and turned on one circuit that was in the “off” position. She then returned to the bathroom, where she turned her hair dryer back on. When the dryer still failed to operate, she called the building superintendent, who told her which breaker she needed to reset. Back at the panel, she reset the breaker the super had indicated, which was not the one she had initially turned on.

As she continued to dry her hair, she smelled smoke and investigated. Finding the source of the odor in a bathroom off the master bedroom, she tried to extinguish the flames using a pot of water, then a portable fire extinguisher, with some success, before closing the bathroom door and calling 911 at 6:30 p.m.
Responding firefighters, who found light smoke in the unit and smelled wood and paper burning, stretched a hose line from the standpipe to the bathroom and knocked the fire down.

Investigators spoke to the resident, who showed them the breakers she had reset and told them it was the first time she had ever looked at the breaker panel. The investigators discovered that the first breaker she had turned on powered a wall-mounted heater in the master bathroom that had purposely been turned off, as the bathroom was used only for storage. However, the heater control knob had been left in the “on” position when the breaker was turned off, so that the heater began working again as soon as the breaker was reset, igniting numerous boxes and items that were stored against it.

Damage was limited to the bathroom and the adjacent bedroom. A firefighter was taken to the hospital for evaluation when he became ill after returning to the station. He is believed to have suffered from heat exhaustion.

Sprinkler douses fire started by ignition of oily rags in trash can

WASHINGTON—Oily rags in an open trash can in the kitchen of an assisted-living facility spontaneously ignited, starting a fire that spread to a wall until heat activated a sprinkler.

The three-story, wood-frame building, which measured 100 feet (30 meters) by 100 feet (30 meters), contained 80 units in addition to common spaces. The building’s fire alarm system monitored the water flow of the wet-pipe sprinkler, which was installed in compliance with the local code.

A building occupant who heard the fire alarm activate discovered the fire in the kitchen and tried unsuccessfully to extinguish the blaze using a dry chemical portable fire extinguisher. By the time firefighters arrived at 9 p.m., however, a single sprinkler head had already extinguished the fire. Investigators determined that someone had improperly disposed of oily rags in the regular trash and that they had ignited spontaneously.

The sprinkler spared the building significant fire damage, keeping losses to $5,000. There were no injuries.

No batteries in smoke alarms in fatal house fire

NEW YORK—Two women died of smoke inhalation in a fire in their single-family house. Firefighters responding to the fire found the victims, 52 and 83 years of age, lying unconscious in separate rooms of the house. The one-and-a-half-story, wood-frame dwelling had smoke alarms on both floors, but they had no batteries. The house had no sprinklers.

A passerby discovered the fire at 9:49 p.m. and used a cell phone to call 911. When firefighters arrived, police officers already on the scene reported that there was a fire in a section of the home thought to be the living room. Neighbors reported that at least one of the home’s occupants was probably still in the house. Fire crews forced their way through the front door and quickly brought a small fire in the living room under control.

After searching the smoke-filled rooms, firefighters found one victim lying on her bed in a first-floor bedroom. They removed her from the house and started CPR, but resuscitation efforts were terminated after several minutes when the victim showed no signs of life.

Shortly afterward, the body of the second victim was found on the floor at the rear of the building, wedged between the door and the frame of the rear doorway. Resuscitation efforts began at the scene and continued during transport to the hospital, but the victim was pronounced dead on arrival. Both of the victims died of smoke inhalation.

Investigators determined that the fire started in the living room and that debris in the room contributed significantly to fire spread, but they were unable to determine a cause.

The house, which was valued at nearly $50,000, sustained an estimated $25,000 in damage. Damage to its contents, the value of which was not reported, was estimated at $10,000.

Makeshift lampshade blamed for fatal fire in multi-family home

MASSACHUSETTS—A 15-year-old girl died of smoke inhalation in a fire that started when heat from several compact fluorescent light bulbs ignited paper that was being used as a makeshift lampshade, and the burning paper fell onto a bed, igniting an 8-inch (20-centimeter) foam mattress on the floor.

The three-story, two-family, wood-frame house in which the fire occurred measured 45 feet (14 meters) by 30 feet (9 meters). The only smoke alarms in the building were on the third floor and operated as designed. There were no sprinklers.

When one of the home’s residents smelled smoke, he went to investigate and found a fire burning in an unoccupied second floor bedroom. He tried to control the fire himself, leading to a one- to two-minute delay in fire department notification. He finally called the fire department at 8:40 p.m., and responding firefighters quickly extinguished the blaze.

Fire investigators later determined that the fire started in a second-floor bedroom and that the smoke that spread up to the third floor activated a smoke alarm.

The house, valued at $300,000, sustained damage estimated at $50,000. Its contents, valued at $50,000, sustained $10,000 in damage. The location of the fatality was not reported.

Woman dies in unattended cooking fire

GEORGIA—A 48-year-old woman died of smoke inhalation after a fire broke out in her basement apartment.

The unsprinklered apartment was in a two-story duplex that measured 37 feet (11 meters) by 28 feet (9 meters). A single-station, battery-operated smoke alarm had been installed in the living/dining room of the apartment of origin, but it did not have a battery.

Investigators determined that the fire started after food heating on the gas stove ignited. Firefighters believe the victim might have been trying to open a window to escape. Investigators also determined that the victim was under the influence of prescription medication, which might have contributed to her death.

The house, valued at $75,000, sustained $10,000 in damage. Damage to its contents, valued at $10,000, is estimated at $4,000.

Unattended cooking blamed for fatal house fire

MINNESOTA—A 31-year-old man died of smoke inhalation in a fire that started when food left cooking unattended on the stove ignited.

The fire occurred in a one-story, side-by-side, wood-frame duplex that was 40 feet (12 meters) long and 30 feet (9 meters) wide. The victim’s apartment had two bedrooms, a bath, a kitchen, a living/dining room, and an attached garage. Hardwired smoke detectors with battery backup had been installed in the hallway outside the bedrooms, but neither neighbors nor firefighters reported hearing the alarm. There were no sprinklers.

The occupant of the other half of the duplex called 911 at 12:48 a.m. when he was awakened by a pounding sound and the smell of smoke.

Responding firefighters forced the door open and discovered that a fire in the kitchen had nearly burned itself out. They extinguished the blaze and found the victim kneeling in a closet that was closest to a hallway door, overcome by smoke inhalation. Fire medics began advanced life support at the scene until emergency responders arrived to transport him to the hospital, where he later died.

Investigators determined that a pot of food had been left heating unattended on the gas stove in the kitchen. Eventually, the contents ignited, and the fire spread to overhead wooden cabinets, filling the unit with smoke. They also found a smoke detector, which had no battery, lying on the floor, where they believe it had fallen from the ceiling.

The house, valued at $181,000, sustained an estimated $40,000 in damage. Damage to its contents was estimated at $10,000.

Fire that began in bedroom kills two teenage boys

WISCONSIN—Two 14-year-old boys died in an early morning house fire that started in a second-floor bedroom and spread to the third floor, where the victims and two other children were sleeping.

The two-family, wood-frame house, which was 41 feet (12 meters) long and 22 feet (7 meters) wide, had a single apartment on the first floor and another apartment on the second and third floors. The third-floor attic was divided into a bedroom and an unfinished storage area. Battery-operated smoke alarms had been installed on the first and second floors but not the third, and investigators could not determine whether they operated. There were no sprinklers.

One of the surviving boys on the third floor awoke to find a “blanket of smoke” over his face and realized the house was on fire. He called 911 at 3:36 a.m., then grabbed his younger brother, went to the window for a breath of fresh air, and escaped down the stairs. He returned to the third floor for his other brother and a friend who was sleeping over and found his brother lying unconscious on the third-floor landing. By this time, conditions had become untenable, and he left the house.

Firefighters arrived four minutes after the alarm and were told that two children were trapped on the upper floors. Flames were still coming from second-floor bedroom windows, and firefighters had to knock down the heavy fire from the outside before a rapid intervention team could enter the house. Using flashlights, the team found one of the victims in the third floor attic and found the second victim while backing down the stairwell between the second and third floors. Both were removed from the building.

Investigators determined that the fire started in a second-floor bedroom but could not determine the cause.

The building, which was valued at $128,900, was heavily damaged, as were its contents, valued at $25,000. One firefighter suffered a back injury when he slipped on the ice during the suppression operations, and the two boys who escaped from the third floor suffered from smoke inhalation.

Detection system alerts hotel occupants; guest, staffer injured

ILLINOIS—A fire detection system installed in the top-floor mechanical room of a hotel activated, alerting the occupants to a fire that injured a guest and a staff member.

The four-story, steel-frame hotel, which measured 150 feet (46 meters) by 150 feet (46 meters), had concrete floors, concrete walls, and a metal roof with a built-up roof surface. It was equipped with a fire detection system and a sprinkler system monitored by a central station company.

The fire department received an automatic alarm at 6:37 a.m., and firefighters arrived about four minutes later. They learned from building maintenance workers that there was smoke on the fourth floor, and crews found a fire burning in a boiler unit in the mechanical room. They extinguished the blaze before it could activate the wet-pipe sprinkler system.

Investigators said the fire appeared to have resulted from an electrical fault in the boiler control mechanism.

The fire department reported two civilian injuries. One civilian suffered possible smoke inhalation injuries while the other complained of chest pains. However, no further information was provided.

The hotel, valued at approximately $10 million, and its contents, valued at $3 million, sustained an estimated $10,000 in damage.

Girl with intellectual disabilities injured in fire

ILLINOIS—A 13-year-old girl with intellectual disabilities suffered from smoke inhalation in a fire of undetermined origin that started in the living room of her apartment.

The apartment was one of 19 units in a two-story, wood-frame building that was 160 feet (49 meters) long and 30 feet (9 meters) wide. A smoke alarm in the apartment of origin operated to alert other occupants.

After hearing the smoke alarm, the girl’s sister tried unsuccessfully to find her before she left the apartment to ask neighbors for help. One neighbor went to the front door of the apartment and called for the missing girl, but he did not receive a response. He asked another neighbor to call 911 at 5:09 p.m.

Firefighters arrived at the building to find flames coming from the front door and the living room heavily involved in flames. After knocking down the heavy fire, crews advanced hose lines into the building in search of the girl, whom they found in the bathtub. They removed from the building and took her to the hospital. Despite her smoke inhalation injuries, she survived.

Both the house, which was valued at $65,000, and its contents, which were valued at $15,000, were destroyed. Investigators could not pinpoint the exact cause of the fire.

Smoking fire damages high-rise apartment building

PENNSYLVANIA—Several residents, as well as a firefighter and a police officer, were injured after a cigarette ignited a mattress and started a fire in a seventh-floor apartment of a 12-story apartment building.

The floors of the steel-frame building, which measured 120 feet (37 meters) by 72 feet (22 meters), were covered by lightweight concrete, and the metal roof deck was covered with poured concrete and a built-up surface. The building had a fire detection system that provided coverage in all the common areas and at least one detector per unit, as well as standpipes in stair towers. A wet-pipe sprinkler system provided coverage only in the area of the common trash chute. Passive protection included one-hour-rated construction in the corridors and two-hour-rated construction in the stairwells.

The fire department received a 911 call from the central station alarm company reporting a possible fire on the seventh floor of the building at 6:43 p.m. Arriving units were met by evacuating occupants, who confirmed the fire. Firefighters climbed to the sixth floor, where they connected their hoses to the standpipe, then went up to the seventh floor, where they encountered heavy smoke.

Advancing a hose line into the unit, which was fully involved, the engine crew extinguished the blaze and placed the combination nozzle by the open window to vent smoke and heat from the apartment.

Investigators indicated that the occupant of the apartment of origin, who had self-evacuated, was under the influence of alcohol at the time of the fire. They determined that a cigarette ignited a mattress in the bedroom and that the resulting fire consumed the bed and bedroom before spreading to the bathroom.
All the apartments on the floor of origin sustained significant smoke damage, as did the stair tower that the firefighters used for staging. The apartments directly below the unit of origin on the sixth, fifth, and fourth floors sustained water damage. Damage to the building, which was valued at approximately $5 million, was estimated at $500,000. Damage to the contents was estimated at $1 million.

Four residents were transported to the hospital due to smoke inhalation, and two required hospitalization. A firefighter and a police officer suffered both smoke inhalation and overexertion injuries.


Sprinkler controls sauna fire in gym locker room

WASHINGTON—An early morning fire in a YMCA locker room began when a rubber mat left on top of a sauna heater caught fire, spreading to the sauna’s cedar paneling. The fire department was dispatched at 5:05 a.m. after a building occupant called 911 with a report of smoke in the women’s locker room.

The two-story, wood-frame building, which covered approximately 50,000 square feet (4,645 square meters), included a fitness center, exercise rooms, and other recreational equipment. A wet-pipe sprinkler system had been installed in the building, as had a fire alarm system.

Firefighters arrived three minutes after the 911 call to find that a sprinkler had activated and confined the blaze to the women’s locker room on the second floor. They used a pressurized portable water extinguisher to put the fire out.

Investigators discovered that the rubber floor mat had been placed on top of the sauna’s electric heater, which warms rocks to create the dry heat in the room. Set to automatically turn on at 5 a.m. and off at 10 p.m., the heater turned on as scheduled, igniting the combustible mat and starting a fire that spread to the sauna’s cedar walls.

Fire damage was limited to the locker room, while water damaged the fitness area below. The loss to the building and its contents, valued at more than $3 million, was estimated at $50,000. There were no injuries.


Staff extinguishes hospital fire that started in a computer

WISCONSIN—A fire alarm system activated by a fire in a computer in a vacant hospital operating room alerted staff members, who used two portable carbon dioxide fire extinguishers to extinguish the blaze before it could spread.

The eleven-story, steel-frame building, measuring 925 feet (282 meters) by 545 feet (166 meters), had concrete floors and walls, and a concrete roof with a built-up surface. The fire alarm system, which included smoke detectors and manual pull stations throughout the building, monitored a wet-pipe sprinkler system.

Members of the hospital’s maintenance staff were in their offices when they heard the fire alarm activate. When they went to investigate, they could see the fire through the operating room window. They then used the portable extinguishers to put the fire out before it generated enough heat to activate a sprinkler.
When the fire department received the alarm at 1:49 p.m., it dispatched two engine companies, a ladder company, an ambulance, and a command car to the scene. Fire crews arriving at the hospital were directed to the emergency room entrance, where security personnel led them to the second-floor operating room, which was filled with smoke. Maintenance staff told the firefighters that they had already extinguished the blaze, but that they wanted the firefighters to overhaul and check for any fire spread. Electrical equipment associated with the incident was unplugged, and firefighters used a thermal imaging camera to check for hidden fire.

Smoke damage to the vacant operating room and fire damage to the computer were estimated at $15,000. No patients or staff members were injured in the incident.

HVAC unit blamed for fire in office building

ALASKA—A sprinkler extinguished a fire that spread from the wall-mounted heating and air conditioning unit of an unoccupied first-floor office suite to combustibles stored on a window sill before firefighters arrived.

The steel-frame, four-story office building, which was about 75 feet (23 meters) long and 100 feet (30 meters) wide, had wood-frame interior walls that were covered with gypsum board. A full coverage wet-pipe sprinkler system that was monitored by a fire detection system provided protection for the building.

The fire department received an automatic alarm for the building at 9:10 p.m., and arriving firefighters discovered that the sprinkler had already put the fire out. Upon investigation, they determined that one of the two circulating motors in the built-in HVAC unit had seized, creating enough heat to ignite the unit’s filters. The resulting fire reached combustibles on the window sill and grew large enough to activate the sprinkler overhead.

Although smoke damaged the entire office of origin, fire damage was limited to the heating and air conditioning unit and the window sill. Loss estimates were not reported.

Self-storage smoking-materials fire snuffed by sprinkler

NEW JERSEY—A sprinkler in a large self-storage building extinguished a fire started by smoking materials that had been disposed of carelessly.

The three-story, steel-frame building, which had metal walls and a metal roof, covered an area of 40,000 square feet (3,716 square meters). It had a full-coverage fire alarm system that monitored the water flow of the wet-pipe sprinkler system; both systems were monitored by a central station alarm company.
The building occupants became aware of the fire at 7:33 p.m., when a smoke detector in a corridor on the first floor activated. They immediately evacuated. By the time firefighters arrived at the scene, the sprinkler had already managed to extinguish the blaze.

Investigators determined that the fire started when smoking materials dropped in a commercial-grade plastic trash barrel ignited the barrel’s contents. As the fire grew, smoke activated a nearby smoke detector, and the heat fused a sprinkler overhead.

Damage to the building and its contents, valued at $1 million, came to just $100. There were no injuries.

Ken Tremblay for NFPA Journal