A recent fire in a single family dwelling, started in the basement. The fire did extensive damage to the entire house. At this point, the only thing that I have read is that the fire was determined to be accidental, which says a lot. This takes the intentional component out of this equation, including a child or children playing with fire. I do not know if I can touch on every accidental cause in a basement, but my desire is to get you thinking, especially if your home has a basement.
On arrival at this fire, units found heavy fire showing from the front side (the Alpha side) of the structure. For a fire that started in the basement to be showing from the first floor, chances are good that the fire rapidly spread to the first floor. The usual path of a fire from the basement to the first floor is up the stairwell with an open door on both ends. A stairwell serves as a chimney, since heat, fire, and smoke are looking to move up. Keep in mind that a closed door slows the progression of a fire.
Here is a list of potential causes of a basement fire:
- Any part of the electrical system, or any energized electrical equipment that can overheat or short out
- Any appliance fueled by propane, natural gas, or heating oil
- Improperly discarded smoking materials
- A space heater, baseboard heater, or any supplemental heat source
- Live candles
- Any cooking equipment
- Improperly discarded fireplace ashes
Again, it is impossible for me to list every cause of a basement fire without seeing a particular basement. In addition to the potential fire causes, the combustibles in a basement are what will catch fire. Here are a few of the combustibles that might be found in a basement:
- Paper or cardboard
- Wood, structural members
- Clothing, bedding, and other pieces of furniture
- Excessive storage
- A buildup of trash
If you think about what I have written thus far, a typical basement is just like any other room in your house, with the exception of one access point, usually being from the outside of the house, and a second access point via a stairwell on the interior. The human factor or the pet factor exists in every home. It is important to have an adequate number of smoke alarms in the basement. An unhindered fire can double in size in a matter of seconds. The problem with some fires is that there is a delay in calling 9-1-1, due to the homeowner trying to fight the fire, or being hindered, for some other reason, from getting out. The age old statement here is et Out and Stay Out!
If you have a basement, the important thing to do is to take a global look at the entire basement. Answer this question, what are the potential fire causes? What will burn in your basement? How will the fire spread? Are there an adequate number of smoke alarms? If you are in the basement when the fire starts, how will you get out? The basement, finished or unfinished, is another space where a fire can occur. What’s in your basement?