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87 Posts authored by: paulalevesque Employee

On Tuesday, July 31, 1979, at 3:26 a.m., a fire was reported at the Holiday Inn, Southgate Parkway, Cambridge, Ohio.  Ten people died from smoke inhalation and 82 were injured, several of them seriously.  All fatalities were occupants of second floor guest rooms. 

The two-story building was of protected noncombustible construction.  The area of origin was within a first floor corridor towards one end of the guest room wings.  The interior wall finish in the corridors and three open stairways of the building consisted of combustible vinyl wall covering.  The building was equipped with a manual fire alarm system; however, there were no other initiating devices.  The alarm system was not connected to the fire department.

The primary factors that led to the casualties in this incident were the high smoke production of the combustible interior finish, the unprotected vertical openings at the stairways, the lack of early warning detection and the inadequate alerting of occupants of the fire.  Many guests were seriously injured while escaping through nonoperable plate glass windows.  Solid doors on the guest rooms provided compartmentation and helped to limit the number of casualties.
NFPA members can download this January 1980 Fire Journal article.  For statistical information NFPA's U.S. Hotel and Motel Structure Fires

MemphisTN report

A multiple-death fire occurred on March 21, 1988 at the Oakville Heath Care Center, a nursing home 

located at 3391 Old Getwell Road in Memphis, Tennessee.  The patient involved in the ignition of the fire and two other patients in the room of origin were killed, and 18 others were injured.

The two-story, fire-resistive  building in which the incident occurred contained 27 sleeping rooms housing 73 non-ambulatory patients and 1 patient who was reported as being ambulatory.  The building had no automatic sprinkler system or automatic fire detection system, except a smoke detector used in conjunction with a pair of corridor smoke doors.  the building did have a manually activated fire alarm system which automatically transmitted alarms to the fire department.

The fire originated in a first floor room occupied by three patients.  Considerable smoke and toxic gases spread throughout the building; however, the fire was held to the room of origin as a result of staff efforts at extinguishment.  All patients, except for the three in the room of origin, were evacuated.

The significant factors contributing to the multiple deaths in this fire were:

    •     The rapid growth and development of a fire that resulted from the ignition

             of patient room furnishings and contents;

   •     The lack of suppression of the fire in the incipient stage by automatic


     •     The lack of automatic early detection and warning of the fire that could have

            resulted in earlier staff actions.  

NFPA members can download the full investigation report Nursing home, Memphis, TN Those interested in more information about nursing home fires can download Fires in Health Care Facilities  


One of the stairways in the Ozark Hotel. Seattle Times

A fire of incendiary origin occurred at the Ozark Hotel in Seattle, Washington, on March 20, 1970 and
claimed the lives of 20 occupants.  Fire investigators determined that a flammable liquid had been poured and ignited on the first-floor level of two open stairways.  The fire quickly spread throughout the building rendering the stairways and corridors useless.  As a result, 20 occupants perished, either from smoke inhalation or from injuries suffered when jumped from the upper stories. 

NFPA members can download the Fire Journal  article January 1971 Fire Journal article Those interested in more information about hotel and motel fires can download NFPA's Hotel and Motel Structure Fires report and fact sheet  More information on intentional fires NFPA's report on Intentional Fires


On, March 4, 1991 a fire of accidental origin occurred at Crystal Springs Estate, a board and care facility, in Colorado Springs, Colorado.  Nine of the building's 25 elderly residents died during the fire.  In addition, eight other residents and five firefighters were injured. 

The single-story masonry and wood structure, with two separate partial basements, was divided into three fire compartments by noncombustible walls, and the corridor openings in these walls were protected with fire doors.  A fire alarm system using heat detectors as the primary initiating device protected all rooms, closets, and attic spaces.  Manual pull stations and smoke detectors located next to the fire doors were also connected to this fire alarm system.  The activation of any device in the fire alarm system would initiate alarm chimes throughout the building and would send a signal to a central monitoring station.  A separate alarm system of interconnected corridor smoke detectors was also provided and only initiated a local alarm upon the activation of any detector on the system.

An electric motor in a ventilation fan apparently malfunctioned, overheated, and ignited combustible materials in the attic above the east wing.  The fire burned for an undetermined period of time, spreading in the attic space above several rooms before causing the ceiling to collapse in a residents' lounge.  At approximately 12:35 a.m., smoke entering the occupied space activated the corridor smoke detection system, and staff began their emergency procedures.

The fire also breached a wall between the wing of origin and a dining room and spread across the combustible ceiling in the dining room.  Because there was no fire door between the dining room and the corridor in the west wing, smoke and fire extended to that corridor. 

The first firefighters on the scene found the dining room fully involved in fire with heavy smoke and some fire extension in corridors of both wings.  They started simultaneous rescue and suppression operations.  All survivors were rescued during the first half hour, and fire suppression operations continued for approximately 4 1/2 hours.  In addition to the nine fatalities and eight injured residents, the fire destroyed two of the building's three wings. 

The following factors appear to have significantly contributed to the loss of life:

    •     Heat detector system in the attic did not provide early warning,

     •     Fire separations did not prevent the spread of smoke and fire,

     •     Combustible ceiling in the dining room,

     •     Lack of adequate firesafety training for staff and residents.

NFPA members can download the full investigaion report Board and Care Facility Fire. Those interested in more information about board and care fires can download NFPA's Structure Fires in Residential board and Care Facilities report and fact sheet.  For more information on firefighter injuries download Firefighter Injuries in the United States

On Friday, February 26, 1993, a violent explosion ripped through the sub-basement levels of New York's World Trade Center killing six people.  The explosion and subsequent fire caused extensive structural damage in several basement levels, caused damage that interfered with the operation of the fire protection and other emergency systems, and resulted in the evacuation of approximately 100,000 occupants of the World Trade Center complex.  Over 1,000 people were injured during the evacuation.

The World Trade Center complex includes seven high-rise buildings, a shopping mall and several levels of underground parking.  The two largest high-rise buildings are 110 stories tall and are commonly referred to as the "Twin Towers".  In addition to these high-rise buildings there is a 27-story high-rise building, a 21-story high-rise building (Vista Hotel), two nine-story high-rise buildings, and one eight-story high-rise building.  Except for the 27-story high-rise building, all of the buildings are constructed over a plaza containing a 60-store shopping mall and four, underground levels of public parking.

A van containing explosives was parked on one of the underground parking levels in an area between one of the towers and the Vista Hotel.  At 12:18 p.m., the explosives were detonated causing severe explosion-related damage on six levels of the complex.  In the immediate area of the explosion, the floor slabs for two basement levels collapsed.  The explosion also penetrated the floor for the Vista Hotel and combustion products spread immediately into the hotel lobby.  Damaged windows between the hotel and one of the center's towers allowed smoke to quickly enter the tower lobby area.  Elevators shafts that were damaged in the basement allowed smoke to spread into and fill the two towers, the Vista Hotel and another high-rise building in the complex.

NFPA members Download the full investigation report.


On Saturday, February 23, 1991, an early evening fire occurred at a 38-story high-rise building in
downtown Philadelphia resulting in the death of three fire fighters, fire extension to nine floors, and severe structural damage to the building.  During the 18 1/2-hr effort to control the blaze, fire fighting activities were hampered by the loss of electrical power (including emergency power) and inadequate fire attack hose stream pressure to suppress the fire.  As a result, the fire was able to spread from the floor of origin, the 22nd floor, to the 29th floor.  The vertical fire spread was completely stopped at the 30th floor by an automatic sprinkler system supplied by fire department pumpers through the siamese connection.  This significant high-rise fire is being documented by the NFPA with the cooperation of the Philadelphia Fire Department. 

See full NFPA Fire Investigation report See NFPA's resource page on high-rise buildings for more information. Those interested in more information about firefighter fatalities in the U.S. can download NFPA's free fact sheet and full report.


On Sunday, February 18, 1990, a natural gas explosion and subsequent fire in the Hagerstown Super 8 Motel resulted in the deaths of four guests and minor injuries to ten others.  Three of the four fatalities occurred in rooms affected by the explosion and the fourth victim was found in a corridor approximately 35 feet from the area of the explosion.

 The three-story wood frame structure was designed to meet, among other codes, the requirements of the 1985 Life Safety Code which the city had adopted and was enforcing when the building was constructed in 1987.  The building had 62 guest rooms and was provided with smoke detectors in the rooms and corridors, a local fire alarm system, sprinklers in hazardous areas, a standpipe system in each stairway, fire extinguishers, emergency lighting, and operable windows.  In addition, the exit access corridors and the exit stairways were enclosed with fire-rated walls and doors.  Further, staff had been trained in firesafety (evacuation, use of extinguishers).

At approximately 5:10 a.m., two guests reported the smell of gas to the hotel desk clerk.  After confirming that there was a gas leak, the desk clerk called the gas company and attempted to stop the gas that was escaping from a damaged hot water heater valve.  Neither the clerk nor the gas company dispatcher called the fire department, and the building evacuation alarm was not activated until after the explosion.

The explosion occurred at approximately 5:30 a.m., when the build-up of gas was ignited from an unknown source.  The explosion heavily damaged several guest rooms, two utility rooms, and a laundry room.  The rooms that were damaged by the explosion were also damaged by the ensuing fire that continued to burn until the gas source was shut off (approximately one hour after the explosion), and it was suppressed by the fire department.

Three of the victims were in rooms that were damaged in the initial explosion.  Their location with respect to the explosion area appears to be a major factor leading to their deaths.  The last victim had apparently entered the corridor to escape and was overcome by heavy smoke from the ensuing fire.

Even though the building was damaged by the gas explosion and subsequent fire, the interior fire rated walls maintained tenable conditions sufficiently long to allow over 90 percent of the occupants to escape without assistance from firefighters and contained most of the fire to the immediate fire area. 

NFPA members can download the full investigation report Those interested in more information about hotel and motel fires can download NFPA's free fact sheet, and members can read a full report


Fire fighters from four engines and two truck companies were committed to suppression operations on the third floor and a medical sector had been established outside the building.  While suppression operations were in progress, the fire suddenly increased in magnitude and spread into several areas beyond the room of origin.  Two of these fire fighters were killed, and four fire fighters were injured with two sustaining critical injuries.  A subsequent search of the building revealed that one patron had also died in the fire.  This person was found in a stairway between the sixth and seventh stories, and he had died of smoke inhalation.  Four civilians were also injured.

Indianapolis Fire Department investigators determined that the fire was accidental in nature.  The fire occurred when an electrical problem caused the ignition of wood paneling in a third-story bar.  The investigators also determined that the sudden increase in the fire magnitude, which killed and injured the fire fighters, occurred when combustion gases that were trapped in a concealed space entered the room and caused a flashover in the room where the fire fighters were working.  The fire rapidly spread to other areas on the third and fourth stories, and smoke spread throughout the building.

The following factors contributed significantly to the loss of life at the Indianapolis Athletic Club:

    •      Lack of an approved automatic sprinkler system in the room of fire origin,

    •      Lack of automatic fire of smoke detection system in room of fire origin,

    •      Combustible interior finish,

    •      Unprotected penetrations in wall and ceiling assemblies,

     •      The existence of concealed spaces which were not readily observed by

               fire fighters during suppression operations.

NFPA members download the NFPA full Fire Investigation report


On the evening of February 1, 1991 a US Air, Boeing 737-300 collided with a Skywest, Fairchild Metroliner at the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).  The B-737 that was involved was configured to carry 128 people including both passengers and crew; however, only 89 people were aboard at the time of the accident.  Twenty-two people on the B-737 died, and all 12 people aboard the Fairchild Metroliner were killed by the collision and subsequent fire.

The NFPA dispatched a staff member to participate in the National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) investigation of the accident.  The NFPA’s focus was on the aircraft rescue and fire fighting (ARFF) for the purpose of providing lessons learned from this accident to the NFPA Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting Committee, the Aviation Membership Section of the NFPA, and the fire community.

NFPA members download the full NFPA Fire Investigation report.


Only two persons were able to escape from the Pennsylvania House Hotel when flames quickly spread through the building on January 16, 1972, leaving 12 others dead.  The hotel building was typical of many old, small community hotels built to serve the travelers of 75 years ago -- hotels that for the most part have been replaced by motels as transportation has changed through the years.  The owners of older buildings have attempted to keep a hotel business going, with the result that many of the hotels have changed in character, serving as residential hotels for local citizens rather than lodging a transient population.  In this case the building served as a residence for the owner and his family as well as a combination residential-transient hotel.

NFPA members Download this May 1972 Fire Journal article


On Tuesday, January 15, 1985, a fire occurred in a 102,900-sq ft, 85-year-old warehouse built of mill construction undergoing demolition in the light manufacturing section of Hoboken, New Jersey.  At the time of the fire, the roof and top floor of the four-story warehouse had been dismantled.  The automatic sprinkler system that once protected the warehouse complex had been taken out of service two weeks prior to the fire.

In an effort to keep warm while working inside the building, demolition crews lit small fires in metal containers.  It is believed that the fire was caused when burning materials from the container fires came in contact with accumulated combustible rubble located on one floor below where the demolition crew was working.  The warehouse was totally consumed and burned to the ground within 30 minutes of detection of the fire.  The extremely rapid development and spread of the fire were large largely due to the geometric configuration of the fuel load, i.e., large areas of exposed, well-seasoned timber, unprotected vertical openings and inoperative automatic sprinkler system.

A five-story, 85,000-sq ft building that abutted the warehouse was an extreme exposure problem from the onset and was eventually destroyed by the fire along with all of the small miscellaneous buildings contained in the block.  Two hundred and sixty-five fire fighters with 36 pieces of apparatus battled the fire for over 5 1/2 hours before bringing it under control.   Twelve other fires caused from burning embers being carried by high winds to other locations in the city, along with the complete destruction of a city block and 77 automobiles, resulted from this fire.

In spite of below freezing temperature and high winds, fire fighters were able to successfully contain the fire to one block.  If their efforts had failed, the potential for the destruction of additional property was greatly increased.

This fire illustrates the extreme exposure hazard of buildings undergoing demolition.  The following are considered to be significant factors contributing to the large property loss in this fire:

   •     Failure to provide adequate safeguards during the demolition operation.

   •     Automatic sprinkler system impairment in an exposure building.

   •     Adverse weather conditions, i. e., high winds on the morning of the fire.    

   NFPA members Download this Hoboken, NJ report 


Shortly after 9:25 p.m., on January 12, 1984, a private patient attendant discovered a fire involving furnishings in a exit access corridor at the Beaumont Nursing Home in Little Rock, Arkansas and notified nursing staff. After being notified by the attendant, the staff initiated emergency procedures which included evacuating those patients closest to the fire and closing remaining patient room doors. Fire department units arrived at the Beaumont Nursing Home at approximately 9:38 p.m. and found fire showing in the northeast corner of the building. Fire fighters observed the nursing staff and civilians in the process of evacuating some of the 57 patients from the home. The fire caused severe damage to a section of the building,and resulted in the death of two patients and injury to 12 others.

The one-story Beaumont Nursing Home was built in two separate sections separated by a four-hour fire wall. The section on the building in which the fire occurred was built in 1954, and was of ordinary construction. Fire protection features in this section of the building included automatic sprinkler protection and automatic smoke detector protection connected to a building fire alarm system

Fire department investigators have determined the cause of the fire to be an electrical short in an extension cord which ignited furnishings in an exit access corridor. Investigators also determined that the water supply to the automatic sprinkler system had been shut off; the automatic smoke detection system was not functioning properly; and there was a delay in the notification of the fire department. As a result, the fire was able to develop undetected by automatic systems and was well established at the time of discovery. This allowed heat and smoke to spread throughout this section of the nursing home.

Five significant factors were identified during the investigation as contributing factors to the loss of life and injuries from this fire. These factors were:

• A closed valve due to a ruptured underground supply line preventing water flow
from the public main into the building's sprinkler system;

• The lack of a properly functioning building fire alarm system;

• The location of the "T.V. room" in the exit access corridor;

• A delay by nursing staff in the notification of the fire department;

• The failure of established inspection and testing programs to identify deficiencies
in various components of the fire protection systems provided at the nursing home.

NFPA members Download this Little Rock, AK report For statistical information Fires in Health Care Facilities

On January 11, 1988 at 8:19 p.m., the New York City Fire Department was notified of a building fire at East 50th Street, Manhattan.  Arriving fire fighters found a fire involving several first floor rooms with trapped occupants on the floors above.  Before the fire was under control, the fire department had sounded five alarms bringing over 200 fire fighters to the scene; four civilians died, 13 fire fighters were injured, and another nine civilians were also injured.  Approximately 70 people were rescued by fire fighters.

The mixed-use building was a fire-resistive, 115 ft x 100 ft, 10-story high-rise structure.  The first two floors had commercial areas, and floors three through ten contained apartments.  A single-station, battery-operated smoke detector was provided in each apartment.  Other fire protection equipment included a standpipe system in one of two enclosed stairways, fire extinguishers, and a partial wet-pipe automatic sprinkler system protecting a storage room in the basement.

The fire originated in a first floor office and, before the fire department arrived, spread to other areas on that floor.  Combustion products spread to floors above because the first floor access doors for the two enclosed stairways were held open with wedges.

Coordinated suppression and rescue operations restricted the number of fatalities and injuries and limited the extent of damage to the building.

The following factors appear to have contributed significantly to the severity of this fire and to the loss of life:

    •     Building modifications that increased the fuel load;

    •     The absence of automatic detection or suppression systems;

    •     Stairway doors at the level of fire origin that had been blocked open,

            allowing heat and smoke to spread throughout the building.     

NFPA members Download this Manhattan, NY report For NFPA statistical data High-Rise Building Fires  Safety tips Read NFPA's high-rise apartment and condominium safety tips

At 9:32 a.m. on Saturday, January 10, a natural gas explosion killed 20 people in Fremont, Nebraska, and destroyed the Pathfinder Hotel and six adjacent buildings.  The exact cause of the explosion is unknown, but the natural gas leak that preceded the explosion was caused by an underground pipe separation.  The odor of the natural gas was first detected about four hours before the explosion.  However, hotel employees were unable to reach gas company personnel to request assistance for nearly two hours, even though they used emergency telephone numbers.

The fire that resulted from the explosion spread vertically through inadequately protected elevator shafts, stairways, and pipe chases.  The incident was remarkably similar to the Paramount Hotel disaster that occurred in Boston on January 18, 1966.   During that explosion, the Paramount Hotel was severely damage when flame from the subsequent fire traveled through non-fire stopped pipe shafts and inadequately protected elevator shafts.

 NFPA members Download this July 1976 Fire Journal article For NFPA statistical data Fires Starting with Flammable Gas or Flammable or Combustible Liquid

In the early Morning of January 9, 1974, fire originated in a TV set at the Orlando South Travel Lodge in Pine Castle, Florida.  The occupant of the second-floor room of origin narrowly escaped death of serious injury.  This fire was the latest in a series of 20 malfunctions in TV sets at this motel in the past year; 18 had occurred in the preceding eight months.  The malfunctions ranged in severity from minor electrical arcing to smoking of sets to open burning with spread to other items in the room.

NFPA members Download this July 1974 Fire Journal article  For NFPA statistical report on Electrical Fires

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