House and building fires are some of the most dangerous and destructive events on the planet. While smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, and fire sprinkler systems can help reduce the loss of life and property during a building fire, there are some fires that are too large to stop. Even fire fighters have a hard time completely putting out a building fire; most of the time their efforts are focused on containing it and preventing the flames from spreading to nearby structures.
According to the National Fire Protection Agency, in 2011, there were 1,389,500 fires reported in the United States. These fires caused 3,005 civilian deaths, 17,500 civilian injuries, and $11.7 billion in property damage. However, in order to paint a picture of these numbers, we have addressed two of the most studied fires in U.S. history.
The Station Fire
The Station nightclub fire was the fourth-deadliest nightclub fire in U.S. history. The Station was a heavy metal nightclub located in West Warwick, Rhode Island. On the evening of February 20, 2003, the headlining band was Great White. The band’s opening performance was accompanied by a flash of pyrotechnics. Unfortunately, the sparks ignited the highly flammable sound dampening foam, which was installed on portions of the interior walls and ceilings. Consequently, the building was engulfed in flames in minutes. Because of the building’s age, The Station was “grandfathered” out of the law requiring fire sprinkler protection. Fire officials later noted that a fire sprinkler system would have likely spared many of the 100 fatalities that occurred that night, perhaps preventing what would be the fourth-deadliest nightclub fire in U.S. history.
The Beverly Hills Supper Club Fire
A sprawling complex of banquet rooms and service areas, the Beverly Hills Supper Club was a famous attraction located in Kentucky just six miles south of Cincinnati, Ohio. A major tragedy occurred on May 28, 1977, when a fire broke out that caused 165 deaths, and over 200 injuries. Sadly, this aftermath could have been minimized if certain fire prevention and egress deficiencies had been addressed. First, due to the absence of a fire sprinkler system, the initial fire development, and spread, was uncontrolled. Second, due to the severe occupant overcrowding, as well as the inadequacy of the fire exits, many occupants were unable to safely egress the building. As a result of this fire (which is considered to be the third deadliest nightclub fire in U.S. history), many local and nationwide laws were enacted, including mandatory emergency lighting in public venues.