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Posted on: November 8, 2019

Fire Officials Tout Automatic Fire Sprinklers and Offer Safety Tips After Fire at Local Business


At approximately 7:00 p.m. on November 6th, Fire and Rescue units from the Metropolitan Washington Dulles Airport Authority and Fairfax County were dispatched to investigate a report of a fire alarm sounding in a commercial building in the 44,000 block of Mercure Circle in Sterling. After additional 9-1-1 callers advised smoke and active fire, the Loudoun County Emergency Communications Center dispatched a full structure fire assignment bringing additional units from Loudoun’s Kincora, Dulles South, and Moorefield stations along with additional units from Fairfax County.

Upon arrival, firefighters found significant smoke conditions and one occupant who had safely self-evacuated the structure. As crews investigated they discovered that the automatic fire sprinklers had effectively operated and contained the fire to a small area where firefighters finished extinguishing the fire. There were no injuries to emergency personnel or civilians. 

The Loudoun County Fire Marshal’s Office investigation determined the fire was accidental, due to the spontaneous combustion of improperly disposed oily rags, and estimated the total damages at $25,000. Fortunately, the fire activated the building’s fire alarm and automatic sprinkler system which extinguished the majority of the fire prior to the arrival of emergency personnel. “If the sprinkler heads had not been in place and operated as designed, this fire could have been significantly more severe,” said System Chief Keith Johnson. “This incident is a prime example of the positive impact of a fire protection alarm and automatic sprinkler system.

This incident demonstrates the importance of automatic fire sprinklers as well as the safety hazards posed by oil-based products and other highly volatile products commonly used for projects. These potentially dangerous products include paints, stains, teak oil, linseed oil, varnishes, polyurethane, and paint thinners. When oil and stain soaked rags are not disposed of properly they can become a fire hazard due to their ability to spontaneously combust. To properly and safely dispose of oil or gas soaked rags:

  • Spread rags in a single layer, flat on the ground/driveway or hang them in a safe area away from combustibles, so heat dissipates while the material cures.
  • An oily rag has cured when it becomes hard and brittle. The time it takes to cure can vary considerably depending on humidity, temperature, and the finish.
  • Place dried rags in an airtight metal container with tight-fitting lid, and cover with water and an oil breakdown detergent. This will prevent the oils from oxidizing, keeping the rags from heating up and igniting. The metal can with water is a temporary solution until the rags may be properly removed from the site. Don’t add any other combustible material (stuff that can catch fire).

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