Heater ignites costly fire
By Ashleigh Petersen Mary Ann Gormly, CERP
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Heater ignites costly fire

Faulty switch causes major damage

“Quick, call 9-1-1!” An employee came running out of the warehouse into the showroom, yelling to anyone who could hear him. Employees looked behind him and saw the flames in the warehouse. They all scrambled out the front of the rental store. A short while later, sirens could be heard coming down the street and flashing lights lit up the early morning sky.

The fire marshal was called to the scene, and he provided his report. It appeared the fire started in the rear of the warehouse at floor level near a propane heater and quickly spread through the warehouse. He reviewed the evidence and did not believe it was a criminal matter and left the scene undisturbed for insurance investigators.

The fire caused heavy and extensive damage extending upward and outward, causing a partial roof collapse.

The rental store owner took stock of the warehouse from a distance. At first glance, he was unable to determine what items simply had smoke or water damage and what items were destroyed by fire or could not be repaired. He opened a claim with his insurance company, which assigned a field adjuster to assist with sorting everything out. They also retained a salvage company to aid in listing and taking care of any salvageable items.

Prior to the fire starting, an employee was in the warehouse working on a skid steer. It was chilly that morning and he decided to turn on the propane heater they used to keep the area warm when they were working on equipment. He was called to the front of the store to help with a customer. When he returned, the fire had started. He ran to turn off the propane tank and then up front to alert everyone to leave the building.

The building was made of metal and a wood frame. The fire damaged the framing, metal panels and insulation to the point that the building was considered a total loss. The total for just the building was more than $200,000.

Some of the damaged items belonged to the business and were not available for sale or rent. The policy limits on business personal property were quickly exhausted. The rental store had another location nearby, so they were able to continue to operate the company and experienced only minimal business interruption.

Most of the items destroyed or damaged were part of the rental inventory. The cost to replace the rental equipment destroyed in the fire was just less than $300,000. The fire burned hot and fast and not many items could be salvaged. The total salvaged from the damaged equipment after expenses was only $7,800. Altogether the total damages exceeded $500,000.

It was discovered during the investigation that the propane heater turned on that morning had a faulty switch. The mechanic had been working on it the evening before and had not tagged it as faulty or “do not operate.” Had that been done, it would have been apparent not to use it and the chilly employee would have looked for another heat source that morning.

Ashleigh Petersen

Ashleigh PetersenAshleigh Petersen

Ashleigh Petersen is the associate editor for Rental Management. She writes news and feature articles, plus coordinates the monthly Safety Issue and several sections in the magazine. Ashleigh loves spending time with her husband and young son, baking, gardening and listening to true crime and comedy podcasts.

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