Causing Fires, It Is Not Just the Blazes

Lawrence gas leak explosion fire incident on September 14th.
(The video referenced from The Wall Street Journal)

This September, a gas explosion caused a giant fire incident in Lawrence town, Massachusetts. The incident led one killed and injured at least 13 others. Gas explosion was the cause of the fire.

(The picture referenced from American Economic Association)

According to the Boston fire incident history, in 1872, there was a largest damage of fire incident happened in downtown area, even the whole nation in the history, which called Great Boston Fire of 1872. It directly caused economic loss up to 73.5 million dollars and 13-people’s deaths. This incident’s underlying causes were roof’s material, dusty pipes, and locked alarm boxes delayed to inform the fire department for 20 minutes.

From only these two examples, we can see that the reasons to cause fire incidents can be very diverse and sometimes complicated.


In this data visualization graphic, there were top ten causes in this year’s January that led the fire department went out. This dataset comes from Analyze Boston and it archived from 2012 to August of 2018, before the Lawrence gas explosion happened. I only chose one month to explore more. Choosing January is because I thought winter can use more fire production than any other seasons. I limited fire incidents that only think about fire usages, like cooking fire, heating fire, stove fire and more. However, the data visualization result showed me a different knowledge experience.

Among them, “water or steam leak”, “malicious false alarm” in some public places, and “public service” were the three main reasons to alert Boston’s fire department. In these top ten list, we can also see that some familiar causes, such as  “Alert system activation—no fire unintentional”, “cooking fire”, and “gas leak” were also in the top-ten list.

“Water or steam leak” occupied a majority seat in fire incidents in the top ten list. However, the potential dangerous probably cannot usually catch people’s attention because it’s hard for residents to imagine “how” water or steam leak causes “fire”? (Question 1)

Based on an articleHigh-pressure steam incidents: what you need to know” published in Fire Engineering website, high-pressure steam (HP steam) emergencies can cause devastation.The temperature of HP steam can be as high as 900 F. People need to emphasize the potential dangerous of HP steam. What’s more, if steam leak damage the hydrogen gas pipe, these two gases will pose a fire. Asbestos insulation hazards often find on steam piping.

The second reason of fire incidents,“malicious false alarm”, were unexpected. During the process of cleaning data, there were two descriptions to limit the false alarm: “local system”, and “central station”. Michelle McCourt, the education coordinator of Boston Fire Department clarified that “local system” and “central station” actually mean these alarms happened in the public spaces, but how “malicious false alarm” impacts the fire department? (Question 2)

McCourt said that this is an unwanted fire alarm to fire department. Sometimes, it can cause dangers. Some people who really need the emergency service could have no supporting at that time. This malicious false alarm is also hard to track to charge the punishment fee because they usually happened in the public area. “Once we through monitors to get the evidence, we will contact with the individual to charge them fees,” McCourt said.

The last but not least question is how long does the fire department react these different causes when they receive the alarms? (question 3)

About Yaling Hou 7 Articles
Yaling is a videographer and a bilingual writer who accept journalism education both in China and America. She is passionate about education, cross-cultural communication and youth development. She writes, produces, edits and assists multimedia stories for organizations like Sampan Newspaper and Chronicle, WCVB in Boston.