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Davie, Barker W. Jr. The Investigation of Mobile Home Fires. The National Fire & Arson Report. Vol 6 No 4 (1988).

Abstract: Cost-competitiveness in the mobile home construction industry has led manufacturers to utilize processes that result in intense burning in mobile home fires. In addition to the fire danger, reconstruction of a burned mobile home is also difficult because the damage is often so extensive.

Analyzing the flow of fire in a mobile home can be difficult because:

  • Vinyl and resin particle board construction increases the production of volatile vapors which can accelerate the production of an explosive fuel-to-air ratio much faster than in larger homes with different construction. This can bring a room to flashover more quickly.
  • Metallic sidewalls, roof, and frame conduct heat efficiently and allow rapid penetration of fire into the walls and ceilings and through the roof. Heat also radiates back into the house, creating an "oven" effect.
  • The rectangular shape necesitates a long central hallway that acts like a chimney, allowing fire to race quickly to other rooms. Thin walls exacerbate the situation.
  • The average ceiling height of 7' and the low square footage means a low cubic square footage of air which fills quickly with toxic gases and heats quickly to flashover.

The author asserts that the majority of the fire science principles used in wood-frame structures do not apply in mobile homes because of the types of materials and the furnishings cause temperature inversions when flashover occurs. The author documents this through his firm's test burns, including evidence of high floor temperatures, even floor burning on clear areas and under tables, and unexpected glass fragmentation. The author suggests that rust or oxidation patterns may be a more reliable way to trace fire flow in mobile homes.

  • Accidental fire sources particular to mobile homes are also discussed. These include:
  • Appliance vibration causing staples wearing through electrical wire insulation
  • Recessed lighting bulbs with higher-than-recommended wattage
  • Expansion and contraction of copper and aluminum conductors as seasons change
  • Movement of the mobile home loosening fuel gas connections

 
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