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87 Posts authored by: paulalevesque Employee


On November 13, 1997, at approximately 6:00 a.m., a fire occurred in an occupied, four-story apartment complex in Bremerton, Washington. Four residents died in this fire, and twelve were injured.

The complex was comprised of 142 units, of which approximately 130 units were occupied at the time of the fire. The main portion of the complex was a U-shaped building. The ground floor, which contained storage areas, laundries, parking areas, and utility rooms, was made of noncombustible construction. The upper three floors contained the apartment units and were constructed of wood studs covered with fire-rated gypsum wallboard on each side. However, the exterior face of the walls was covered with 5/8-in. thick plywood that was not fire-rated. A two-story building occupied the open portion of the U and was built in a similar style as the main portion of the complex.

  • Lack of automatic fire sprinklers
  • Combustible exterior wall construction
  • The door to the apartment of fire origin being left open after the fire was discovered
  • Inadequately protected means of egress
  • Lack of proper fire separations in the combustible void space
  • Lack of a complex wide fire alarm system incorporating automatic detection

To read the NFPA full Investigation Download this Bremerton, WA report 


On the morning of November 12, 1992, an accidental fire destroyed most of the Dole Fresh Vegetables plant in Yuma, Arizona, and resulted in a loss estimated at $16 million.  The building was a noncombustible structure with light-gauge metal exterior walls and roof components.  Polyurethane foam insulation was sprayed over the interior surfaces of the exterior walls and roof.  In addition, wood-frame walls were constructed throughout the building in front of the foam insulation to permit washing of interior surfaces.  Automatic sprinklers were installed and provided protection in the occupiable spaces throughout the facility.

On the day of the fire, the construction of an addition to the facility was near completion.  It appears that welders, who were installing process equipment, may have accidentally ignited combustible materials including the sprayed-on foam insulation inside a wall assembly.  The fire spread in a combustible concealed space between the wood-framed interior walls and the metal exterior walls.  Sprinklers had not been installed in the combustible concealed space.  As a result, the sprinkler systems that operated were not able to control the fire spreading within the walls. 

Early in the incident, the fire appears to have also spread into the occupiable areas of the addition still under construction.  The sprinkler systems in this area were not operational.  As a result, the fire rapidly grew in the addition, and fire spreading from this area into the salad plant helped to overwhelm the operational sprinkler systems in the salad plant. 

Based on the NFPA's investigation and analysis, the following significant factors contributed to the loss of property at the Dole Fresh Vegetables plant:

  •  The presence of concealed combustible spaces in which the fire could readily spread.
  •  The ignition of combustible materials within a concealed space.
  •  The lack of sprinkler protection in the concealed combustible spaces.
  •  Sprinkler systems that were not operational due to ongoing construction activities.

To see the full report Download this Yuma, AZ report  For more information on NFPA Large-Loss Fires in the United States.


On November 11, 1979, 14 people died in a fire at the Coats Rooming House in Pioneer, Ohio.  A three-year-old child playing with a cigarette lighter was responsible for a rapidly spreading fire that killed 13 residents and one of the owners of the home.   The fire started in a sofa in one of the two apartment units located on the first floor of the structure.  

The boarding home provided room and board for eleven elderly private residents and eight mentally retarded residents who had been referred to the boarding home after being released from a state mental health care facility.  Two rented apartment units in the building had an additional five occupants.  The home was operated by the owners, who also resided in the building.

Combustible interior finish, heavy fuel loading, lack of compartmentation, a single means of egress from the second floor, and the apparent lack of response of some of the residents to the fire conditions contributed to the 14 fatalities.  

To see the full NFPA Fire Investigation  Download this Pioneer, OH report For NFPA's statistical information Playing with Fire

Twelve hotel guests died November 5, 1978, when a fire attributed to arson raced through the 120-year-old Allen Motor Inn in which a large-loss-of-life fire could have been predicted.  The three-story hotel, labeled a "fire trap" by a county official, had open wooden stairs, no fire protection features except for portable fire extinguishers, and no fire alarm system.  Despite recent attempts by officials to enforce safety codes, the hotel owner had been granted three separate time extensions to make repairs, and the hotel had continued in use with major fire safety violations until the November 5 fire took the lives of more than half of its occupants. 

To see the full report Download this March 1979 Fire Journal article.  To read NFPA's statistical information on arson fires  Download Intentional Fires report

On October 31, 2006, a fire occurred in the Mizpah Hotel in Reno, NV, a residential hotel housing mainly low income people. At the time of the fire there were 85 occupants within the building. The fire spread rapidly in the corridor on the second floor of the building and then upward, preventing many occupants from promptly exiting the building. Several mattresses stored in the second floor corridor provided fuel for the fire as it grew in size. First arriving fire units were confronted with an acute situation, with occupants awaiting rescue at several windows and several more unaccounted for.

Twelve occupants died in the fire, and over 30 were injured. The building was destroyed and had to be demolished in the aftermath of the fire and investigation.

Investigators determined that the fire was deliberately set by a resident who ignited one of the mattresses in the corridor and left it against a dwelling room door in the second floor corridor. The suspect in the fire, a 47 year-old female was charged with twelve counts of murder and one count of first degree arson. She pled guilty to these counts in January, 2007 and was sentenced to multiple life sentences in March, 2007.

For the full NFPA report Download this Reno, NV report.  To learn NFPA statical information Download Hotel and Motel Structure Fires

On Friday, October 30, 1992, an explosion and fire resulted in the total evacuation of the Woburn Nursing Center, a 101-bed facility, in Woburn, Massachusetts.  The explosion occurred when natural gas was accidentally released during construction activities at the facility.  The natural gas filled combustible concealed spaces in the building's core area and was ignited by some undetermined heat source.  When ignited, the gas-fed fire spread vertically from the basement to the third floor blowing off a section of the building's roof.  Twenty-one sprinklers operated controlling the fire while staff members evacuated all patients.  Construction workers, neighbors and others provided limited but valuable assistance during the evacuation.  Since the evacuation activities were already in progress when they arrived, most of the first-alarm fire fighters were able to concentrate on fire suppression.  Twenty-one civilians and two fire fighters sustained injuries though most of these injuries were minor.  The damage to the building and its contents was estimated at $1.5 million.

Based on the NFPA's investigation and analysis of this fire, the following significant factors contributed to the successful outcome during the fire at the Woburn Nursing Center:

  • The installation and operation of a supervised and approved automatic sprinkler system
  • The existence of and administrative commitment to programs and procedures describing staff emergency response
  • The immediate actions of trained staff members following the explosion
  • The quick response of fire department, emergency medical and other personnel who, through a coordinated effort, were able to perform their respective tasks as well as assist the nursing home staff in the care of evacuated residents.

To read the full NFPA report Download this Woburn, MA report.  For NFPA statistical information Fires in Health Care Facilities


On Thursday evening, October 28, 1998, a fire occurred in a nightclub in Gothenburg, Sweden.  A Halloween party was being held in the second floor hall, and it was estimated by officials that there were approximately 400 people in attendance.  According to personnel from the fire brigade, one of the survivors reported that there were so many people that it was impossible to even dance because people were crowded shoulder to shoulder.  The area had an occupancy rating of approximately 150 people.

Once the fire was extinguished, about 20 bodies were found in a small room on the northwest end of the building.  It appeared that these victims were attempting to flee the fire and were not able to make it through the door at the northwest end.  They then attempted to take refuge in the room, but were overcome by the smoke.  One officer reported that the bodies were piled approximately three feet deep in this room. A total of 64 people died in this fire, mostly from smoke inhalation.  Their ages ranged from 14 to 20 years old.  150 people were injured.  The fire brigade estimated that they rescued 40 to 50 people.

Based on the NFPA's investigation and analysis of this fire, the following significant factors were considered as having contributed to the loss of life and property in this incident:

  • • Overcrowding
  • • Lack of a sprinkler system
  • • Lack of a fire alarm system
  • • Fire ignition through arson
  • • Combustible storage in a stairwell 

To read the full report Download this Gothenburg, Sweden report.  For NFPA statistical information Download Eating and Drinking Establishments

On Sunday October 25, 1987, at approximately 8:45 a.m., three fire fighters were killed and three others injured during a multi-department, live fire training exercise involving a vacant, two-story, wood frame farmhouse in Milford, Michigan.

The following factors are considered as having significantly contributed to the fire fighter fatalities:

   •     The use of flammable and combustible liquids in a live fire training


  •     The presence of combustible wall paneling and ceiling tiles within the

            training building;

  •     Lack of adequate planning and of communication of the training exercise

            objectives to all individuals;

 •     Lack of adequate assessment of the hazards of the training exercise and the

            hazards presented by the structure in such an exercise;

  •     Lack of adequate training (fire) ground command structure to ensure safe

            and coordinated procedures.  

NFPA members download the full report  For more information on NFPA statistical reports firefighter fatalities and firefighter injuries

On October 20, 1973, an early morning fire spread throughout the first floor of this two-story motel killing two of the 250 guests and causing severe damage.  A major factor in this fire was a 35 minute delay in notifying the fire department.  The fire started in a guest room and, apparently, spread to other areas by burning through the plywood-on-wood-stud walls.  Combustible ceiling tiles and wood wall coverings contributed to the fire spread in the corridor.


To see the full NFPA March 9174 Fire Journal article.  For NFPA'  Fire Analysis and Research statistical report Hotel and Motel Structure Fires

A devastating conflagration occurred in the scenic hills above the cities of Oakland and Berkeley, California, on October 20, 1991.  Burning embers carried by high winds from the perimeter of a small but growing duff fire ignited overgrown vegetation and led to the further ignition of tree crowns and combustible construction materials of adjacent homes, including many with wood-shingle roofs.

The result was a major wildland/urban interface fire that killed 25 people including a police officer and a fire fighter, injured 150 others, destroyed nearly 2,449 single-family dwellings and 437 apartment and condominium units, burned over 1,660 acres, and did an estimated $1.5 billion in damage.  

To read the whole NFPA Fire Investigation Report.  This story is also feature in NFPA's Newsletter Fire by the Numbers.  To Learn more about NFPA;s Fire Adapted Communities

On Thursday, October 18, 1984, an incendiary fire started on the third floor of the Alexander Hamilton Hotel in Paterson, New Jersey resulting in the deaths of 15 persons and injuries to over 50 persons.  The fire was confined to the third floor of the eight story steel frame fire resistive building, although products of combustion traveled to upper floors where the majority of the deaths occurred.

The hotel was a combination transient/residential hotel with 169 guest rooms or living suites on the upper six floors.  Although equipped with 3 enclosed stairways and a smoke detection system, the stairway doors were not closed and allowed early failure of the exit system due to smoke and heat spread.  Vertical ventilation shafts servicing the bathrooms of each guest room also spread smoke to the upper story guest rooms.

To learn more about this fire NFPA's Fire Investigations.

On October 5, l989, a nursing home fire in Norfolk, Virginia, resulted in the death of 12 patients and required hospital treatment or relocation of 96 others.  The building, built in 1969, is a four-story, nonsprinklered, fire resistive structure housing 161 elderly patients at the time of the fire.  The first floor contained general administrative offices and support facilities and patient rooms were located on floors two through four.  The fire was discovered just after 10:00 p.m. by the nursing staff who immediately began to evacuate patients, activate the fire alarm system, close patient room doors, notify the fire department, and extinguish the fire.  However, during this process, the fire grew within the patient room of origin and extended into the exit corridor, forcing the staff to abandon their emergency procedures on the fire floor. 

Norfolk Fire Department received notice of the fire at 10:l8 p.m., and fire fighters arrived on the scene within four minutes of the notification.  Upon arrival, they observed fire extending from a second floor window and lapping to the floor above.  An interior fire attack was begun utilizing the building standpipe system while other fire fighters laddered the building, extended a handline and “knocked down” the majority of the fire.  Severe heat and smoke conditions existed on the fire floor and fire fighters began to realize many of the patients remained in their rooms.  Because of these severe conditions, fire fighters began to evacuate patients from the fire floor.

Other arriving fire fighters, summoned by additional alarms, found moderate to heavy smoke conditions existing on the third and fourth floors.  Eventually the entire nursing home was evacuated.

Local investigators have listed the probable cause of the fire as careless disposal of smoking materials.  An open flame ignition source ignited bedding materials on a patient’s bed which soon involved a polyurethane decubitus pad, and the bed’s mattress.  Investigators believe that the fire grew very rapidly while the staff was attempting to complete their emergency procedures.  Within an estimated three to four minutes of discovery, flashover conditions were reached in the room of origin and the fire extended into the corridor.

The following are significant factors in this fatal fire incident:

     •     The rapid growth and development of the fire within the patient room;

     •    The absence of automatic sprinklers that could have prevented full room involvement or


     •    The absence of automatic early detection and fire warning in the room of origin;

     •    The lack of compartmentation due to the open door to the room of fire origin;

     •    Failure of the fire alarm system to function properly.

For the full NFPA Fire Investigation report on this fire.  To learn about NFPA's  Fire Analysis and Research statistical data  on Fires in Health Care Facilities.

A 34-year-old man died of smoke inhalation in a fire that began when smoking materials that had been carelessly disposed of ignited in a bedroom of his single-family house.  Two other occupants of the house escaped.

The one-story, wood-frame, ranch-style home, which measured 62 feet (19 meters) by 24 feet ( 7 meters), had smoke alarms in the living room, hallway, and basement, but they were not operational.  There were no sprinklers.

A neighbor reported the fire at 5:52 a.m., and firefighters arrived nine minutes later to find flames coming from the roof at the rear of the house.  The two occupants who had escaped from the burning home could not account for the victim, and crews began an offensive attack to initiate a primary search.  Shortly after they did so, however, the incident commander removed them and the roof collapsed into the kitchen and a bedroom.

Once the fire was brought under control, crews reentered the house and found the victim in a bedroom at the end of a hallway just beyond the bedroom in which the fire began.  Investigators determined that the blaze started when carelessly disposed of smoking materials ignited a chair and or some clothing in the room while the house's occupants slept.  The victim's bedroom was located just beyond the room of origin and escape was possible only through a window.  Investigators said delayed detection was a contributing factor in his death.

The home, valued at $245,000, and its contents, valued at $70,000, were destroyed.  One of the survivors, a 62-year-old woman, suffered smoke inhalation injuries.

Fore more Firewatch incidents NFPA Journal. To learn more about smoke alarm safety NFPA's Fire Prevention Week help us sound the alarm that working smoke alarms save lives.  


At approximately 2:00 a.m., on Monday September 28, 1992, Denver fire fighters responded to a fire in a two-story print shop.  During the fire suppression operations in one Denver fire fighter died.   The victim was working by himself inside the fire building when he, apparently, encountered some type of difficulty.  He was able to reach a second-story window and shine his handlight through the window alerting other fire fighters who were outside.

A partially collapsed floor and intense fire within the building prevented potential rescuers from reaching the trapped fire fighter through the interior of the building.  Other fire fighters, laddered the building and entered the room where the trapped fire fighter was located.  Over a period of approximately 55 minutes, several rescuers attempted to remove the victim through a window; however, they were unsuccessful due to the confinement of the space in which they were working.  The fatally injured fire fighter was finally removed through a hole which fire fighters cut in a wall.

This fire highlights the importance of fire fighters remaining together during fire suppression and related operations.  This fire also reveals difficulties associated with rescue in confined spaces.

For the full NFPA Fire Investigation report To learn about NFPA's Fire Analysis and Research report on Firefighter Fatalities and Injuries.

A fire in the Brunswick Mall on September 20, 1983, destroyed two-thirds of the shopping center.  Smoke, heat, and water damaged the remaining stores.  The loss was estimated to be $11 million.  There were minor injuries to fire fighters, but no loss of life resulting from the fire.

The 195,000 square foot facility had a mall area of heavy timber construction.  The construction classification of the tenant or store areas was unprotected noncombustible.  There were no fire protection systems of construction design features designed to limit the spread of fire.  A fire department connection was provided, but was not connected to standpipe or sprinkler systems.

The fire occurred about 2:30 a.m.. when the shopping center was not occupied.  The fire had spread throughout much of the west end of the facility before the fire was reported.  The majority of stores were destroyed, except for the large Belk Hudson Department Store.

The Brunswick Mall was in violation of the State Building Code from the time it was built in 1968-69, until the fire on September 20, 1983.  The building was never awarded a certificate of occupancy.

Based on NFPA's investigative study, the following are considered to be major contributing factors to this large property loss fire:

   •     Construction features designed to limit the spread of fire were not provided,

            nor were there fire detection or fire alarm systems to provide prompt

            notification of a fire to the fire department.

  •     Approved automatic sprinkler protection was not provided in the shopping center.

  •     Readily accessible hydrant protection was not provided around the perimeter

            of the shopping center. 

To read the full NFPA Fire Investigation report. To learn about NFPA's Fire Analysis and Research stastical report Stores and Other Mercantile Properties

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