Cigarette Carried to Attic By Pigeon and Other Unusual Fire Causes

Updated December 2022 with content from archive blog postings, replacing links to pages no longer available.

Back in 2009, we published a series of blog postings, listing vintage fire cause reports from around North Carolina from the late 1940s through the late 1950s, as (a.) reported to the State Insurance Commissioner’s office, (b.) compiled by the North Carolina State Firemen’s Association Statistician, and (c.) printed in the annual conference proceedings. They’re reprinted below. Or read his complete reports.

Part I – March 2009

For your Friday reading, the following are the causes or probable causes of “peculiar or special loss” fires from around North Carolina in the late 1940s. These are quotes from fire chiefs, reported to the State Insurance Commissioner’s office, compiled by the previously mentioned state firemen’s association Statistician, and excerpted from conference proceedings:

  • Painter burning paint off of house, set house on fire.
  • Attendant in wash pit, presumably smoking while washing car, set car on fire.
  • House set on fire by occupant using wooden fire poker.
  • Spark from passing train into load of cotton.
  • City bus hauling gasoline in open can.
  • Belt jumped pulley, friction set fire to building.
  • Fire originated in a box of children’s toys.
  • The loss, $5,263, is the estimated damage caused by burning gasoline flowing in gutters from the Sir Walter Hotel garage, the garage was not damaged, the $5,263 applying to cars parked in the street. [ Raleigh, 1947 ]
  • Person in show room of garage struck match to light cigarette. Set bucket of gasoline on fire.
  • Sun reflecting on glass vase caused paper to catch on fire. Damage to building $400, contents $100.
  • Cemetery fire, no further information available. [ Reported directly to statistician. ]
  • Sun reflecting on auto mirror set fire to car, $1,000. Better look out, fellows! You can see things are hot here on Carolina Beach.
  • Insane person set fire to house.
  • Short in light fixture, penny behind fuse in apartments, loss $900.
  • Chemicals in satchel used in giving permanents, loss $653.
  • Corn shucks scattered around feed mill, loss $6,615.
  • Glue pot left on too long, water damage $5,760.
  • It is rumored that Boots Shays came home drunk and kicked the stove down. The fire occurred shortly. The local police had him up for questioning two times but could not get proof.
  • Electric hair dryer caught on fire, “Wonder what happened to the woman’s hair?”
  • Burning spider with cigarette, loss $275.
  • Dropped acetylene torch on greasy floor, loss $4,000.
  • Spark from machine caused dust floor fire, loss $1,600.
  • Laundry fire, loss $56,500. Employee poured solvent in drain and later threw a match into the drawn.
  • Smoking while fumigating for rats and insects caused explosion, damage $400.
  • Smoking, while unloading gasoline, damage $120.
  • Using torch near open gas, damage $600. “What could you call it but gross carelessness?”
  • Wax fumes, spontaneous combustion, $94,900 damage.
  • Malicious incendiarism. During a fit of anger threw oil lamp against wall which set fire to building, damage $1,276.
  • Repairing gas line, lit cigarette, it cost $25 for one puff.
  • Spotlight in department store window shining on fabric, damage $15,863.67.
  • Hoboes built fire under bridge, damage $800.
  • Fire in theater projection booth, damage $1,200.
  • Hauling lighted warning torches on truck with barrel of gasoline, damage $300.
  • Believe it or not a fire station fire. Durham fire station, the fire originated in small penthouse and extended under floor into attic space. [ The statistician adds, “my town of New Bern also had one of these a few years back.” ]

Part II – March 2009

By presumed popular demand, here’s a second installment of “unusual fires” from around North Carolina in the early and mid-1950s. These are quotes from fire chiefs, reported to the State Insurance Commissioner’s office, compiled by the North Carolina State Firemen’s Association Statistician, and excerpted from conference proceedings:

  • Struck match in paint room, damage $22.
  • Light bulb in popcorn machine, damage $800.
  • Cleaning floor with gasoline, spark ignited, $800 damage.
  •  Smoking in paint shop, damage $555.
  • Oil stove left burning in a closet, $4,200 damage to house.
  • Smoking cigarette set mattress afire, Greensboro city jail. $6.
  • Hot plate left on, just a matter of $9,000 damage.
  • Wiping floors with white gasoline, $1,300 damage.
  • Steam pipe leaked on electric water heater, causing electrical arc to trash accumulated around heater, $2,000
  • After a drinking party, one of the drunks sleeping on settee dropped match, $1,500.
  • Rats between walls caused fire of $3,750 damage to dwelling.
  • Rats and matches in an old house, damage $1,600.
  • Drop cord nailed to wood ceiling, damage $1,600.
  • Pennies used for fuse plug, damage $1,750.
  • Electric hot plate on bed cooking, $35 damage
  • Stove exploded in whiskey still in shed at rear of house, $200 damage.
  • Cleaning shop window with paint remover, struck match, $270 damage.
  • Completed painting, interior [of] house, no one at home, suspected combustion from paint rags, $6,000 damage.
  • Bread left in oven, child turned stove on, damage $100.
  • Welding torch caught spilled gasoline on fire, damage $50.
  • Hauling gas in car, container turned over, loss $750, probable cause pure carelessness.
  • Filling tank while motor was running, $100 damage.
  • Family moved into house in cold weather, put up a stove, flue went through the ceiling but not through the roof.
  • Termite men treated house in attic, set building on fire accidentally, from information we received. Men left house as soon as fire started. As of yet, have not been able to locate them. Total loss, $4,500.
  • Boy looking for football in closet dropped lighted match, damage $3,300.
  • Pouring gasoline in tank from bucket, lighted cigarette lighter, damage $550.
  • Car drove off with hose nozzle in [gas] tank, pulled tank over, short circuit set fire to gas, damage $500.
  • Someone stealing gas from truck, barn set on fire, damage $600.
  • Wife claimed husband drunk, set fire to house for spite, loss $1,750.
  • Drawing gas from 50 gallon drum using lantern for light, home total loss, $6,800.
  • Pigeon carried lighted cigarette to nest on church, $500.
  • Occupant carried furniture to yard and set fire to same, $25.
  • By-passer stopped, dropped lighted cigarette, loss to freight cars, $6,750.

Part III – April 2009

Third and last installment of “unusual fires” from around the state, from the late 1950s and early 1960s. These are quotes from fire reports to the State Insurance Commissioner’s office, compiled by the North Carolina State Firemen’s Association Statistician, and excerpted from conference proceedings:

  • Poured gasoline on hot exhaust pipe, damage $750.
  • Playing cards in cotton gin room, using candles, damage $275.
  • Men fighting in dwelling knocked over oil stove starting fire, late reporting fire, and it spread to house next door, damage $2,250.
  • Boys smoking in barn, damage $1,100.
  • Occupant emptied hot ashes into paper box, loss $1,204.
  • Penny behind fuse, electric short caused cafe and apartment fire, loss $19,000.
  • Short circuit in motor, burned dairy barn, loss $40,000.
  • Hot grease from barbecued pigs ignited, loss $2,150.
  • Nail driven through electric light wire, loss $1,750.
  • Painter using blow torch, damage $2,044.
  • Thawing water pipes with burning newspaper, loss $600.
  • Short in wiring on electric bag company sewing machine, $1,493.
  • Spontaneous combustion, due to poor housekeeping, loss $2,578.
  • Spontaneous combustion, bag of ladies hose in closet, loss $1,350.
  • Careless disposal of cigarette, country club, loss $230,000. (One cigarette caused nearly a quarter million dollar loss.)
  • Lighted cigarette carried into birds nest, damage $737.
  • Family left electric roaster plugged in while they went away for weekend, $3,500.
  • Owner struck match in darkness to find light switch, gas fumes ignited, damage $4,000.
  • Electric iron on couch, damage $500.
  • Painters burned wasp nest near eaves of house, damage $5,000.
  • One jet airplane crashed near a school, damage to school property $36,400.
  • Sun shining through acid jugs, damage $1,200.
  • Child drying hair on sofa, damage to furnishings $973.
  • Cigarette carried to attic by pigeon, result $2,600 damage.
  • Smoking in closet while looking for clothing, damage $1,600.
  • Occupant put broom in stove, too out and laid on trunk, damage $1,441.
  • Heating oil to pop corn on stove, went off and forgot about it, damage $11,716.66.
  • Sanding floors, lady lit cigarette, cost $700.;
  • Automobile ran through house, damage $1,218.
  • Overhead motor on a cash register, loss $50,000.
  • Pile of shucks and corn cobs in alley behind roller mill, probably illegal parker dropped cigarette, loss $130,000.
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