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Astoria Hardware Store Fire, New York, 2001

On June 17, 2001 a fire and subsequent explosion in the basement of a two story hardware store and apartment building in New York claimed the lives of three firefighters. The hardware store occupied the first floor and basement of two adjacent units while the apartments were located on the second floor above the hardware store. The first floor of the hardware store was used as display and retail space while the basement served as merchandise storage and assembly/repair area.

The fire ignited near the rear door in the basement of the first unit and spread through an open doorway into the basement of the second unit. Ignition of unburned combustion products and flammable vapors in the basement of the second unit resulted in an explosion that generated sufficient pressure to lift the floor of the retail space (on the first floor above the basement). The displacement of first floor "blew" a fire fighter into the basement from the first floor. The movement of the first floor also caused a two-story exterior brick wall to collapse on a number of fire fighters. The three fatalities were the fire fighter "blown" into the basement and two fire fighters under the collapsed brick wall.

At the request of the Fire Department of New York (FDNY), NIST has examined the fire dynamics of this incident to supplement the FDNY investigation. NIST has performed computer simulations of the fire using the NIST Fire Dynamics Simulator (FDS) and Smokeview, a visualization tool, to provide insight on the fire development and thermal conditions that may have existed in the restaurant during the fire.  Three areas of interest that were requested by the FDNY to be reconstructed: 1. What were the conditions, including temperature and oxygen concentrations, in the basements of the two units as the fire spread? 2. How soon would a fire door between the two basements have closed? 3. How would different initial heat release rates (500 kW, 1 MW, and 2 MW) impact the conditions and fire spread in the basements of the two units?

Details are included in the report, "Simulation of the Dynamics of a Fire in the Basement of a Hardware Store – New York, June 17, 2001 (NIST IR 7137)."

 Basement Fire Graphic

The fire started near a door in the basement, as depicted in the graphic above. (Merchandise and shelving not included in graphic.)

Nelson Bryner