A word about house fires...


May 4, 2005, 09:37 PM
The thread about storing ammo, and guns together got me thinking about the subject of house fires. I don't know if it's been gone over here before or not, but you can do certain things to protect valuables in the event of a fire. I am an electrician, and we do a lot of insurance work. Mostly house fires, and floods. First of all keep whatever you don't wanted toasted down low. I've personally seen paint on a wall blistered 48" from the floor right next to a coffee table at about 30" that had perfectly shaped hershy's kisses in a bowl. This particular room wasn't even the room on fire. Also keep your stuff away from your fuse box, or circuit panel. They do sometimes go up. Also keep away from washer/dryers, hot water heater, and furnaces/boilers. Believe it or not but your sump pump can start a fire. I went on a job where the pumps drain got frozen, and the pump fried itself straining against the ice blockage. Basically anything plugged in can start a fire.

Then there is the water damage from putting the fire out. Keep your valuables in water proof containers and that usually takes care of that. Also the Firemen will throw stuff around trying to get at hot spots. You can't really avoid that as far as breakables go. It really depends on where the fire is. You also should keep flammable stuff in the garage or shed. This last fire I went on was a fatality, and as far as I can tell the homeowner fell asleep in bed (basement) with a lit cigarette. The bed smolders, then lights. By then it's really hot at the ceiling, and that can go up, and spread from there. Anyways this particular house looks like it had painting supplies right in the next room. This is where the fire was hottest, as the rafters where charred bad. It was also hot enough to melt the light bulb in the ceiling but plastic stuff on the floor was fine.

Finally you should put a smoke detector in every bedroom, hallways outside of bedrooms, and at least one on your other floors. Currently new smoke detectors are wired into the houses wiring, and when one goes off they all go off. You should have this done if you can afford it. This will help protect the most valuable of all valuables...life.

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May 4, 2005, 09:45 PM
Currently new smoke detectors are wired into the houses wiring, and when one goes off they all go off. You should have this done if you can afford it. This will help protect the most valuable of all valuables...life.

Just curious....if the fire starts from a short in the fusebox or other wiring, does that take out all of the wired alarms?

May 4, 2005, 09:48 PM
Just curious....if the fire starts from a short in the fusebox or other wiring, does that take out all of the wired alarms?

All of our smoke detectors are hard-wired, but also have batteries in the event of a loss of power.

May 4, 2005, 09:53 PM
That is correct the smokes have battery backups. I forgot to mention that. You should replace the batterys once a year just in case.

May 4, 2005, 09:56 PM
should also have carbon monoxide detectors hardwired into your home as well.

and your extinguishers should be serviced by a certified contractor or the fire department annually.

and your detectors (smoke and carbon monoxide) should have batteries replaced every six months, and tested every 3 months. keep logs of battery changes and tests as well.

this is from an insurance companies standpoint, anyways.

May 5, 2005, 10:13 AM
Good reminders all around. This thread's got a "now you know - and knowing is half the battle" feel to it.

I recall from reading a panel in a hotel that it's against ND law to smoke in bed. The person I was travelling with laughed it off wondering how someone could be possibly be that tired. I told him, "if there's a law against, someone's probably done it." I always wondered how they'd enforce something like that though.

To contribute more to the fire safety ideas, have an evac plan and practice it on a regular basis.

May 5, 2005, 10:28 AM
So can anyone give me good answers:

1. Exactly how dangerous is loose ammunition going off in a fire? I have heard it can be dangerous but only at a very limited distance.

2. What is the attitude of Firemen if they come to a house with ammo cooking off?

May 5, 2005, 10:35 AM
1. I wouldn't want to hold it in my hand.

2. They will likely be really busy either trying to put out the fire, or more likely (if the fire has reached that point) keeping it from spreading to care.


May 5, 2005, 10:42 AM

Do a search on the "loose ammo in a fire" thread. There are some great stories! But it really comes down to the physics of the cartridge and that means a small pop, the bullet comes loose, the case flies backward, not much chance for injury. For a bullet to get really going the burning gases need to be contained in the barrel and the case needs to stay put.

And yes, I did throw a .22 into a camp fire as a kid. I hid behind a tree awaiting the inevitable explosion...I waited a long time and never did hear it pop.

May 5, 2005, 10:48 AM
Depending on how much pressure the case can withstand on its own without being in a chamber the bullet will either pop out, or the case will explode. The first is safer, but neither should be a problem at any distance.

May 5, 2005, 11:04 AM
The ammount of ammo found in a house is not usually a great danger but, as a firefighter I will tell you that anytime you combine fire and explosives, there is cause for concern. As others have said it usually just cooks off and pops. That pop is a distinct sound that will jump out from all the other noise of a fire and get your attention.

If the homeowner lets us know it's there we can make an extra effort to keep that area cool and usually it won't hinder the effort to save your house. If it's hot enough get lots of it popping, the house is probably a loss already.

For those worrying about big brother knowing what's in your burning closet, I'd appreciate it if you were first concerned for me and my crew.

May 5, 2005, 11:24 AM
Thanks for the replies. That is more or less what I thought. You hear all kinds of stuff though. :)

May 5, 2005, 08:54 PM
I had the misfortune to have a housefire last yr. It was a grease fire on the stove. I had put a new battery in my detector in Nov(my birthday). The fire was the 1st Sat. in Feb. the detector didn't work. It was about 8AM when I finally smelled the smoke although my pup had acted funny a few min earlier.
I was still inot dressed. I got my dogs out through the kitchen door and went back in to get phone to call the FD. Phone didn't work as I was online.I went back in to turn off the puter. I tried to get out through the kitchen again, I could not.The other door was locked w/ a keyed deadbolt. This all took about 2 min. The fire had probably been burning 4 min by this time. I went back to my bedroom pulled one my jeans and out the window. I have for yrs always kept wallet , keys etc in my pants in case somehing like this happened.
Because of the way my has is built my gun safe is in my diningroom, next to the kitchen. The house is a 1000 sq ft patio home. I had 500 rd of WWB .45 on the dr table. The FD got here in about 8 min.but didn't do any inside attack until the ammo quit going off-- I didn't blame them. The fire was hot enough that the safe visibly buckled. Several hrs later I went in to survey things especially the safe. the guns looked OK except for a little soot on them.
This was a 20 yr old safe with no type of fire ratiing. If I had removed the guns then everthing probably would have been OK, but being a little out of it I left the guns until Monday--a bad mistake. then guns went to a great gunsmith for restoration to the tune of $7600 including a $460 estimate. Fortunately it was covered by my insurance. I did lose a Ruger MKII andand TC 22 Classic as non repairable. The damage was mainly in the form of heavy duty rust.
If you ever have a fire, don't play around--GET OUT. As has been said, have aplan, practice it, have a rally point for family. Have working detectors-check them regularly. Due to code I now have 3 that are hard wired. Have a fire extinguisher for the kitchen but don't place right by the stove.I now have a 2 lb BC extinguisher on the oposite wall. I also have a 5 lb ABC in my bedroom. I have had training in using extingushers through work. I would check w/ your local FD to see if the can show you how to use one. Remove your guns as soon as it is safe to do so. If you own or rent have insurance that is called Replacement Value Insurance. I was lucky I was only out of my house for 8 weeks and have been back in for a year now this week. I have lost alot of non replaceable material things and am still not right finacially , but me and my dogs are alive which beats the alternative.


May 5, 2005, 10:55 PM
I work as a firefighter and have been on many housefires that featured ammo cooking off. The first few times, I looked around nervously and no one paid any attention to it at all. I followed their lead and just kept working. After a few times I realized that it was not dangerous and now just ignore it. I have never heard of a firefighter being injured by ammo cooking off OUTSIDE of a gun's chamber. We get e-mails almost daily of firefighters throughout the country that have been seriously injured or killed (I guess to keep us on our toes): never has one of these mentioned anyone been hurt from ammo cooking off.
I was once on a fire where a captain was standing outside the building and was hit in the center of the chest with a bullet that had cooked off in the fire. The bullet hit him and fell harmlessly to the ground.
I have also never heard of firefighters refusing to make an interior attack on a residential structure because of ammo cooking off, but I am sure it has happened.

May 6, 2005, 08:19 AM
The only thing ammo will do really is make for a hotter fire. Smokeless isn't "explosive"... BP is though, but the same thing applies. Ammo gets hot enough for the smokeless to light in the little bit of oxygen in the cartridge, pressure goes up slowly till *pop*.... or the primer kicks off, not sure what the temps are on that.

As many have said before, the case flying back will be the furthest and fastest moving part of the equation.

May 6, 2005, 08:53 AM
I wonder if ammo cooking off inside a sealed/latched ammo can (MilSurp type) would be a more severe concern? Those cans are pretty sturdy, and in a fire, conceivably could build up more pressure than the cases alone.



May 6, 2005, 11:52 AM
NFPA says cook off ammo is not a concern to FF. I am a retired FF our training always said don't worry about it.

I was in the fire investigation unit for 15 years and never found a problem with cook offs. I had one fire the ammo and IMR powder was stored in a gym bag. The powder burned splitting the can and the ammo cooked off. Found the bullets in the debri of the bag and none outside of it. Only the top of the bag was burned off.

In a loaded gun I can see a bullet being dangerous in a cook off but nowhere else.

May 6, 2005, 12:19 PM
Actually this is a good post in that I thought rounds going off in a fire were a bigger danger. I store a good amount of ammo and my fiance is always saying that if there is a fire someone could get killed when they start going off. I always thought that way to. Thanks for the clarification.

May 6, 2005, 12:28 PM
There are many other things commonly found in a home that are real dangers to firefighters. Ammo sounds dramatic and society in general has been trained to fear guns and ammo: but it is all but harmless in a fire.
The thing that scares me the most is the propane tank on a BBQ. The tank is equipped with a pressure release valve and when that valve releases (and you are fighting the fire), you just about crap your pants. I don't care how many times it has happened to you before. However, if that safety release valve didn't let go, you would have a pretty substantial bomb. This is why they test that valve (or are supposed to-they always check mine) when you are refilling the propane tank. Without that valve we would have a situation familiar to all firefighters (because it has killed a lot of firefighters): a BLEVE: Boiling Liquid Expanding Vapor Explosion.
I once watched a film on a study done in Canada on BLEVEs where they purposely blew up propane tanks and they tracked pieces of steel from the container over a kilometer away from the explosion.
I have heard numerous times of a gallon of gasoline being equated to X (? don't remember the number) sticks of dynamite.
If you have an air conditioning unit on your roof and the structural integrity of the house is compromised by fire, that AC unit is going to come down right through to the ground. Anyone under it, is dead. I had an AC unit do this in the same room I was in. :what:
One thing we have going for us out here in the West is that construction is so shoddy and cheap: building colapse (in a home), is no big deal. I had a garage come down on me and just brushed the debris off myself and kept right on going.

May 6, 2005, 01:20 PM
I have been in the volunteer fire service for a long, long time. We had a couple of cases of 50 BMG cook off and that was kind of interesting. We also had half a dozen 8 lb jugs of smokeless go off at a reloading business and that too was a blast. The worst reloading related "explosion" we had involved black powder but we were defensive and no one got hurt. The loudest and most impressive part of that fire was when 20-30 thousand primers went off. For whatever reason, the primers were loose and stored bulk instead of in the factory packaging. The only time I have been hurt (other than by my own activities) was when an aresol can went off and nailed me in the gonads.

May 6, 2005, 01:51 PM
If you will go to the SAAMI site at http://www.saami.org/docs/SAAMI_lit.pdf they have literature and videos of over 1 million rounds of ammunition being burned, dropped, crushed, etc in controlled tests. Other videos and phamplets are on primers and black power.

In one of the videos they place a camera and cartridge, 30-06 I think, in a cardboard box and impact the primer. The bullet bounced off the cardboard, never leaving the box, while the ruptured caseing stuck in the cardboard.

Interesting video to show in firearms classes to let people see the myth of "exploding" ammunition.

The pressurized cans in your bathroom are more dangerous to the firefighters than a 1000 rounds of any ammo in the same room.

NRA Training Counselor

May 6, 2005, 01:51 PM
"Ammo gets hot enough for the smokeless to light in the little bit of oxygen in the cartridge"

Smokeless powder does not require any oxygen.
The smokeless decomposes and then forms the combustion products. The 'reaction heirarchy' is viewed as:
1. all the nitrogen forms N2
2. All the hyrdrogen burns to H20
3. Any oxygen remaining burns to CO
4. Any remaining oxygen then converts CO to CO2
5. Any remaining oxygen forms O2
6.Traces of NOx are always formed.

None of the reactions actually go to 100%, leaving a mixed bag of products. The energy yield is estimated by deriving the energy from each step, ignoring heat lost to the environment. The step by step energy is determined from references tables giving heat of formation. The energy required to create the molecule is released when it decomposes. From this energy you subtract the energy of formationof the products and you have a yield.

May 6, 2005, 03:17 PM
brickeyee, I'll try to keep all that smokeless powder combustion process in mind the next time I squeeze a trigger ....

I'm sure it will help with my shooting concentration :D

May 6, 2005, 04:14 PM
How hard is it to replace no-battery-backup smoke alarms with battery backup models? We do have two fire extinguishers and dogs.

May 6, 2005, 06:16 PM
TRLaye - took a peek on SAAMI site but found no vid link - can you oblige?

May 6, 2005, 08:19 PM
How hard is it to replace no-battery-backup smoke alarms with battery backup models? We do have two fire extinguishers and dogs.

There are 2 kind of smokes, battery only, and the ones that are hard wired with a battery backup. Depending upon how your house is set up it can be as easy as going in the attic, and dropping down into each location, or require tearing out drywall. You can only fish so much wire so many ways before it becomes impossible to do, without removing areas of drywall. What makes it hard to do is they all have to be wired together like a chain.

May 8, 2005, 03:55 PM

And particularly those professional firefighters. Is there an adjustment, or an adjustable smoke detector on the market?

I've pulled the smoke detector's in our house, too much 'wolf', no fire. If you're going to ask 'But what about the exception?', please don't bother. No children in the house, nearby professional fire dept., extinguishers kept up to snuff & in appropriate places, & exits available.

However, I'm no longer willing to put up with screaming alarms over adding more wood to the insert firebox, having barbeque smoke from the patio enter the house, opening the oven after using the boiler, and static fits of howling in the night.

I haven't tried expelling or exterminating an intruder by gunshot just to see if the d***ed nit-wit device will go off, but I wouldn't doubt that it would.


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