We study the failure of disordered materials by numerical simulations of the random fuse model. We identify emergent patterns of localized damage prior to catastrophic failure by statistically averaging the density of damage around the eventual failure nucleation point. The resulting pattern depends on fracture density and obeys the same scaling relations as would be expected for the stress field generated by a critical crack nucleating in a finite, disorder-free effective medium of varying size. The growth of this critical crack absorbs preexisting clusters according to a well-defined scaling relation. Unfortunately, in single model runs such precursory signals are not obvious. Our results imply that reliable and accurate prediction of failure in time-independent, microscopically brittle random materials in a real case is inherently problematic, and degrades with system size.