This Spring, one of our "No tell" motels had a fire, that killed the occupant of the room. The building ... primarily brick and real plaster ... did a fine job of confining the damage almost entirely withing that one room. A second room received smoke damage, and the hall outside was damaged when the front door burned through. Inside the room there was little left but ashes and bare metal.
Here's an overview of the room:
Of more concern to us is the way the electrical system stood up to the fire. In the hallway, temperatures exceeded the melting point of zinc ... as evidenced by this melted-away fitting:
Outside the window .... can you spot the PVC conduit ?
Finally, I just had to admire this part of their installation. Apart from the tie wires used to hang the pipe - they were attached to plumbing vent pipes - I just had to admire this illegal Cable TV drop:
There are a few points to consider with a fire like this.
The first is that the occupant was not wealthy; indeed, he had fairly meager possessions; indeed, I expect that all he owned would have fit in one duffel bag. The room was modestly furnished: double bed, mattress and box spring, small particle-board dresser, small table, microwave, small TV, basic drapes, cheap carpeting. Yet, this material is what burned. The structure itself was largely not combustible ... it was the contents that did all the burning. Think about that, as you look at your home, with its' tons of knick-nacks, toys, clothing, and all that stuff you just can't bear to toss out.
Then there is the matter of cause. As best I could see, there was no evidence of this person having any truly 'bad' habits. There were no drug materials, no pile of empty booze bottles, no piles of old newspapers.
Finally ... about those melted fittings ... Zinc has a melting point somewhat under 800F. My own fire testing (lab conditions) showed, time and again, that even a wastebasket fire can very easily result in ceiling temps over 600F.
The only thing "unusual" about this fire is that it was so .... ordinary.
Back in the 70's, a gentleman named patten took the NFPA to task. In his opinion, the fire protection industry was focused almost exclusively on protecting property - and not saving lives. While not many kind things were said of him at the time, nearly all of his positions have been since accepted.
One of his big points: warehouses got sprinkler systems, but not residences. About the only 'people places' that got sprinklers were huge high-rise hotel buildings - and even then, often only in the common areas. The sprinkler code was written in a manner that seemed to discourage use in residences.
A single sprinkler head would have covered this room. While it may not have saved the life of the occupant - personally, I suspect he likely had a stroke, etc., prior to dropping that cigarette - it would have greatly limited the damage.
Why were sprinklers not installed? First of all, because they were not required. Secondly, because the sprinkler code wildly over-engineers even the smallest system. This results in the builder having to choose: Rolls-Royce or nothing? The industry continues to do everything possible to restrict your ability to have 'half a loaf.'
The relevance to us is that the same forces are at work in the NEC. AFCI's everywhere? That will add thousands to the price of every house. The result will be homes with even more marginal wiring. Bubble covers everywhere? The result will be fewer outside outlets, and more with broken covers.
Put the licensed contractor in a straight-jacket of only being allowed to do "Rolls-Royce" work ... and the result will be a lot more 'provide as little as possible' work.
I pray the code folks consider this before they vote on the next edition.
Bob, I couldn't agree more with your comment that sprinklers in homes would be a better option. The New Zealand Fire Service has been trying hard to lobby government here for years, to get home sprinklers installed in all new homes, there is a voluntary scheme here, but I don't think a lot of people have taken it up, I could be wrong though.