Catastrophic Fires of the past 100 years
Catastrophic Fires of the past 100 years
The United States national fire record has historically been one of the worst in the western world. Fire departments respond to an average of 2 million fire calls each year. This fire problem, on a per capita basis, is one of the worst in the industrial world. Thousands of Americans die each year, tens of thousands of people are injured, and property losses reach billions of dollars. There are huge indirect costs of fire as well like temporary lodging, loss of business, medical expenses, and psychological damage, loss of pets and others. The frequency and severity of fire in the U.
S. do not result from a lack of knowledge of the causes, means of prevention, or methods of suppression. The nation has a fire problem because the concerned authorities have failed to apply and fund known loss reduction strategies (Diamantes, 2004, p. 1). Fires over past 100 years The great Iroquois Theatre fire occurred in 30th Dec, 1903. The show was packed with 1,900 people and small children sitting on their parent’s lap. Shortly into the second act of the play, a hot arc lamp set the gauze on fire and within seconds, adjacent scenery and rigging caught on fire.
The stage fireman tried to pull the burning scenery down by hand but was not successful because without a pike, he could not reach high enough. He pointed his kilfyre up at the blaze and fired but the powers didn’t reach the fire. The asbestos curtain separating scenes got stuck halfway down. The lights went out and the people headed for the exit doors only to find that most doors opened inwards. Most people died of suffocation and stampede resulting from the fire (Ramroth and Ramroth, 2007, p. 59).
The two most deadly fires which, occurred in America within last 100 years are the Lakeview Elementary school fire in Collinwood, Ohio, on 4th March 1908 and another at Cleveland school fire, South Caroline in 1923. The two events had several elements in common. Both involved failures to use fire resistive materials in application where building codes already required them. Both fires spread at unbelievable speed from basement to second floor up combustible staircases and walls lacking firestops.
Both catastrophe involved significant loss of life from the lack of fire protection exits opening outward and most gruesome of all, both horrors occurred in full view of the community, including a crowd of parents who could see their children dying, yet unable to do anything to save them (Maines, 2005, p. 123). The New York City’s Triangle shirtwaist factory fire of 1911, is justifiably famous for its gruesome circumstances, number of causality, and callous attitude of the proprietors. The source of the fire was a wooden waste bin for cotton scraps, and though not certain, the source of ignition is thought to be an unextinguished cigarette.
Cotton fabric has a flame spread ratio of 1,600 to 2,500, which means it spreads flame nine to thirteen times faster than a pitch pine board. The triangles floors were more than 9,000 square feet each, with no fire divisions, under twelve foot ceilings ventilated with airshafts. When the cut out papers on the eighth floor caught fire, within minutes the fire raged through to the tenth floor and before alarm could be buzzed, fire engulfed the ninth floor and trapped the workers in a stairwell that was blazing, a door that was locked and a fire escape that had fallen from the outer wall, sending two dozen persons to their death.
About fifty of the victims died on the pavement after jumping from windows, nineteen by throwing themselves on top of descending elevator car, and rest inside, from asphyxiation, burns and trampling by their desperate co-workers. Like many other disasters, the triangle fire unfolded in a relatively short time but had an impact that was to alter public perceptions for a century (Maines, 2005, p. 120). Catastrophic fires such as the coconut grove nightclub fire in 28th Nov, 1942 have caused hundreds of deaths at a time, many of them from carbon monoxide poisoning.
The fire consumed only a single building but claimed the lives of 490 people and injured hundreds more. The cause of the fire that struck the tightly packed nightclub on a busy Saturday night was never clearly established but within minutes of ignition in a basement lounge, the flame raced upward into ground floor foyer and dining area. Apart from killing with smoke and flame, the blaze gassed victims with toxic fumes from the vaporized upholstery (Foote, 2003, p. 184).
The 1990 fire at the Happy Land Social Club at Bronx, New York, claimed 87 victims, including a large number of non-burn deaths and the 2003 fire at the station night club in West Warwick, Rhode Island killed 98 people. Another notable toxic gas disaster involving a fire occurred at the Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland, Ohio in 1929, where a fire in the radiology department resulted in 125 deaths. (Goldfrank et al. , 2002, p. 23). The Buffalo creek fire in 1996 and the enormous Hayman fire of 2002, both were caused by human error and were frightening examples of what may happen in the future.
Both fires were quickly spread by hot, dry winds and fueled by tinder dry and plentiful ground vegetation. From small beginning, each fire blew up into a raging conflagration. The heat from the flames was unusually intense and burned hot enough to sterilize the soil. Heavy rains followed the fires a few weeks later causing severe erosion. The Missionary ridge fire burned 70,000 acres outside Durango in 2002, including portions of the watersheds of Vallecito Reservoir, Lemon Reservoir, and the Animas River.
The Fire started on June 9 and eventually involved nearly 3,000 personnel in fighting the blaze. Despite their efforts, the fire consumed 56 homes and twenty six out buildings and cost nearly $ 31 million to fight (Nelson and Spears, 2007, p. 152). Impacts of fire Apart from fire causality, the fumes may affect the people who are in the vicinity of the fire. When a fire occurs, about 90% of fire emissions consist of carbon-di-oxide and water vapour. The portion of the carbon in smoke not converted into carbon-di-oxide is particulate matter, carbon monoxide, and volatile organic matter.
Carbon monoxide is the most abundant air pollutant. Its effect on human health depends on exposure, concentration, and level of physical activity during exposure. Firefighters at the edge of the combustion zone are most at risk, since dilution of carbon monoxide to acceptable levels usually occurs away from the edge of fires. Hydrocarbons, a vast family of chemicals containing hydrogen, carbon, and sometimes oxygen, may contain in the atmosphere as gases, condense into droplets or absorbed into particles.
Particulate matters present in the air due to forests fire reduce visibility, which is compounded in case of a smoldering fire (Agee, 1996, p. 181). Plan of action In case of catastrophic wild fire, the most immediate problem exists around developments and areas of high societal values such as cultural sites and endangered species habitats. Mechanical removal of under-story trees followed by prescribed burning is the most likely method to succeed in these areas.
Where houses have encroached into shrub-lands, removal of shrubs up to 100 feet of houses may be necessary. Less compelling are treatments in remote areas where there is less development and access is difficult. The call to thin forests to prevent catastrophic wildfires have confused the issue as only on rare occasions can a fire move independently through the crowns of trees without a surface fire to feed it. Thinning forests to prevent crown fires without treating surface fuels is ecologically inappropriate and economically unjustifiable.
A combination of treatments is most likely to be effective (Wuerthner, 2006, p. 114). In case of devastating fire in the urban areas, considering the gravity of the problem in the U. S. , President Richard Nixon, way back in 1971, appointed twenty four individuals to the National Commission on Fire Prevention and Control. The commission’s original report entitled, “America Burning” was released in 1973, and was a significant milestone for fire prevention and protection in the later half of the twentieth century.
In May 2000, “America at risk”, the report of a “re-commissioned” America burning panel was submitted to the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Diamantes, 2004, p. 2). Conclusion To conclude, fire safety measures should include active fire protection measures like fire suppression systems, automatic fire sprinkler and adequate fire alarm in public buildings, schools and factories. Apart from passive fire protection facilities like smoke barriers and space separation, there need to be fire prevention strategies as well.
Study of human factors can help taking timely action when a fire breaks out and can minimize causality. Work Cited Agee, J. K. (1996) Fire Ecology of Pacific Northwest Forests, Island Press, pp. 505 Diamantes, D (2004) Principles of fire prevention, Thomson Delmar Learning, pp. 269 Foote, K. E. , (2003) Shadowed Ground, America’s landscapes of violence and tragedy, University of Texas Press, pp. 394 Goldfrank, L. R. , Flaumenbaum, N. E. , Lewin, N. A. , Howland, M. A. , Hoffman, R. S. , and Nelson, L. S.
(2002)Goldfrank’s Toxicologic Emergencies, Springer, pp. 2170 Maines, R (2005) Asbestos and fire, Technological trade-offs and the body at risk, Rutgers University Press, pp. 254 Nelson, M and Spears, C. , (2007) Colorado weather Almanac, Big Earth Publishing, pp. 342 Ramroth, W. G. , & Ramroth, W. G. jr. (2007) Planning for disaster: How natural and man made disasters shape built environment, Kaplan Publishing, pp. 294 Weurthner, G. (2006) The Wildfire reader, A century of failed forest policy, Island Press, pp. 429
Subject: Catastrophic Fires,
University/College: University of Arkansas System
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 30 September 2016
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