Residential Fire Backdraft
Kernersville, North Carolina

The Incident

Kernersville Fire Rescue and responded to a residential in the 1300 block of Union Cross Road shortly after 0200 hours on January 14, 2009. Occupants had been evacuated by two civilians returning home from work at a nearby Dell computer plant. First arriving units initiated offensive operations and began primary search to ensure that all occupants were out of the residence.

Less than 15 minutes into initial operations, an explosion occurred resulting in partial collapse of the building. Kernersville Firefighter Jay Coleman and three firefighters from the Winston-Salem Fire Department were caught in the collapse, but were able to self-extricate. Firefighter Coleman suffered minor injuries.

Chief Walt Summerville of Kernersville Fire Rescue reported “as we entered the building and began to ventilate and to flow air by moving hose lines, the heated gases got the air it needed”. Chief Summerville believes the explosion was a backdraft, which was caused by a build-up of smoke in the crawl space of the home.

Explosion Captured on Video

A Kernersville police officer’s dashboard camera caught a burning home as it suddenly exploded. The police car was (appropriately) positioned a considerable distance from the house and provides a view of Side A from the Alpha/Delta corner. Watch the video several times to get a general sense of what happened Then download and print the B-SAHF Worksheet and identify any key indicators that might have be visible in the video.

Post fire video and an interview with Firefighter Coleman are available on the WGHP Fox Channel 8 web site.

At this point, information available about this incident is limited to news reports and video. However, we will be in touch with Kernersville Fire Rescue in an effort to obtain more detailed and fire behavior focused information about this incident. More to follow!

Important Lessons

An initial look at the limited information available about this incident points to several important considerations:

  • Conditions can vary widely in different compartments. In this incident (like many others) flaming combustion is visible in one location, while extremely under-ventilated backdraft conditions exist elsewhere.
  • Backdraft can occur in an entire building, one or more habitable compartments, or in a void space.
  • Backdraft indicators may be pronounced, they may be subtle, or may not be visible from firefighters working positions.

Ed Hartin, MS, EFO, MIFireE, CFO

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