I just read a news report of a row house fire in East Baltimore that sent six firefighters to the hospital. The cause of...

I just read a news report of a row house fire in East Baltimore that sent six firefighters to the hospital. The cause of the fire is still under investigation, but fire investigators said the fire started in the basement. I cannot remember the last time that I wrote about basement fires. Basement fires are difficult for firefighters to fight, especially if entry must be made from the first floor. The stairwell acts as a chimney for the heat, smoke and fire. You find yourself in a firefight the moment that you hit the stairwell just trying to get to the basement. Attacking the fire from the ground level of the basement could potentially push fire up the stairwell and throughout the structure, making for much greater problems, especially if a rescue is underway.

Listing the causes of fires in basements would require knowing what the space is used for. Electrical causes probably account for many such fires. If the basement is set up as an apartment, then many of the same causes of residential fires come into play. In other words, there may be a kitchen area. Basements could be storage areas, which usually means an increased fire load. Some basements may contain mechanical or electrical equipment that could cause a fire during a malfunction.

Whatever your basement is used for, it must be treated as any other level of your home and protected by smoke alarms. The best type of system is where all smoke alarms are connected in series. This means that when one alarm activates, they all activate. If smoke alarms are not wired in series, then each detector goes off once the smoke or heat reaches it. A fire in an unoccupied basement could burn for a while without detection. The homeowner in East Baltimore said that others in the home were shouting that there was a fire.

Our church has a basement that has bathrooms, office space, classrooms, a residential kitchen, storage areas, a mechanical room and a large multi-purpose room. There are plenty of things that could cause a fire, and the space is used often. The highest probability of fire in our basement is in the kitchen area. Our building has smoke alarms that are integrated into our building’s alarm system which transmit an alarm to the alarm company, which then notifies the fire department.

Fire burns up and out. If there is a pathway up the stairwell, fire will move up into the main living area of the home. Keep in mind: a fire that starts in the basement and moves up the stairwell to the first floor is potentially a large, fast-moving fire. The opportunity for escape becomes difficult as the fire reaches the first floor.

If a fire is burning in the basement because of activating smoke alarms, keep the basement door shut as you exit.

The fire in Baltimore displaced all the home’s occupants. Basement fires are difficult for homeowners and firefighters.

Thankfully, I heard that six firefighters had suffered non-life threatening injuries.