Simulation of a Residential Wind Driven Basement Fire - Riverdale Heights, MD

Report Date: February 2016

On February 24, 2012, seven firefighters sustained injuries, including two serious injuries, when fire conditions rapidly changed, placing the crews in the flow path of the fire. The crews arrived at the residential fire and noticed flames extending from the basement windows, smoke on the first floor, and high wind conditions. When the crews opened the front door, they changed the flow path of the ventilation-limited basement fire. With winds from the rear of the building, the interior staircase and open front door acted as the outflow path for the hot gases. The front door closed after two firefighters had entered, trapping them in deteriorating conditions. These two firefighters were seriously burned and five others were also burned. The fire was finally controlled by another crew that entered through the basement.  

At the request of the Prince George’s County Fire/Emergency Medical Services Department (PGFD), the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) Fire Research Division performed a physics-based investigation of the incident to better understand the fire dynamics. As part of the investigation, NIST performed computer simulations of the event using their Fire Dynamics Simulator (FDS) and created a visualization of the event using their Smokeview software.

The PGFD safety investigation report details the events of the incident and provides recommendations based on the investigation. It is available to view here.

The NIST paper and visualization and the PGFD investigation are available below. These investigations should be used to learn from tragedy in an effort to avoid similar losses in the future.

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  • National Institute of Standards and Technology

    The NIST Fire Research Division develops, verifies, and utilizes measurements and predictive methods to quantify the behavior of fire and means to reduce the impact of fire on people, property, and the environment. This work involves integration of laboratory measurements, verified methods of prediction, and large-scale fire experiments to demonstrate the use and value of the research products.

    Through its programs in measurement, prediction, systems integration, and the dynamics of fire and its interactions with the built and natural environment, the division provides leadership for advancing the theory and practice of fire safety engineering, fire fighting, fire investigation, fire testing, fire data management, and intentional burning.

National Institute of Standards and Technology Fire Research Division Engineering Laboratory. Simulation of a Residential Wind Driven Basement Fire - Riverdale Heights, MD. Online video clip. YouTube, 23 February 2016. Accessed from https://youtu.be/2Jh4H4I-xLw on 24 February 2016. 

Weinschenk, Craig G., Christopher J. Overholt, and Daniel Madrzykowski. Simulation of a Residential Wind Driven Basement Fire - Riverdale Heights, MD. Gaithersburg, MD: National Institute of Standards and Technology, NIST Technical Note 1870, 2015. Retrieved from: http://nvlpubs.nist.gov/nistpubs/TechnicalNotes/NIST.TN.1870.pdf on 24 February 2016.

Prince George’s County Fire/Emergency Medical Services Department. Safety Investigation Team Report - 6404 57th Avenue Riverdale Heights, Maryland Incident Date: February 24, 2012. Retrieved from http://traditionstraining.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/SIT-6404-57th-Ave-Report-Final052913.pdf on 24 February 2016.

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