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Fire in Chemistry Building
By Michael D. Larrañaga, Texas Tech University, Lubbock, TX

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On January 15, 2001, a fire occurred in a Chemistry Building laboratory. A 4-liter bottle of flammable liquid broke inside a fume hood, emptying its contents into the hood and onto the floor. Several hot plates were located inside the hood and ignited the flammable liquid. A researcher was unable to extinguish the fire with two portable fire extinguishers and quickly exited the laboratory. 9-911 was called.

Other bottles of flammable materials soon broke, providing more fuel and allowing the fire to intensify. Soon after, a small explosion occurred when flammable materials stored in the cabinet underneath the hood became involved in the fire. The Lubbock Fire Department soon arrived and extinguished the fire.

Lessons Learned: Over 100 gallons of highly flammable materials, including ethers, acetone, and mixed wastes were found within six feet of where the fire occurred. Many of the containers were exposed to heat and flames, and were close to failure and adding more fuel to the fire. Highly toxic chemicals and reactive metals were also exposed to heat and flame. These chemicals were stored improperly.

Flammable materials are required to be stored in NFPA approved flammable liquids storage cabinets. Storage of chemicals in fume hoods is an improper storage practice (see photo).  Had chemicals been stored properly in the laboratory, this fire would not have occurred.

Had the fire burned for just a few minutes more, it is anticipated that the entire laboratory would have been lost, and more of the Chemistry Building damaged by smoke or fire. Flammable chemicals were stored near the entry to the lab and in the exit paths and could have impeded the Fire Department response or the safe exit of laboratory personnel.


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