Just two months into the New Year, 566 Americans have lost their lives to fire, an average of ten deaths a day. Last week, as the winter storm sent temperatures plummeting, Montgomery County Firefighters responded to dozens of fires which left at least 29 homes and businesses with serious damage. Two residents suffered burn injuries but fortunately, no deaths were recorded in Montgomery County. Across the region, one person died in a fire in San Jacinto County, while a home fire in Sugar Land claimed the lives of a grandmother and her three grandchildren, ages 11, 8, and 5. The family had lost power to their home and were using their fireplace to heat the home before going to bed the evening of the fire. Another suspected home heating fire in Austin claimed 3 lives and injured 3 others.
While the investigation continues into the cause of many of the home and business fires in our County, a number of them appear to have started as chimney fires or from the use of alternative heating devices, especially those in areas that lost electricity for an extended period of time.
Across the nation, a total of 59 children under the age of 14 have lost their lives in home fires so far in 2021. According to initial reports, only 8 of the 566 victims died in fires where there was a working smoke alarm. The overwhelming majority of home fire deaths continue to occur in homes where there are either no smoke alarms present, or they do not function due to missing or dead batteries. Young children and the elderly are among those most vulnerable, with senior citizens 4 times more likely to die from a home fire than the average adult.
While our temperatures have moderated, we remain in the peak season for home heating fires, a leading cause of home fire deaths, second only to cooking fires as the #1 cause of home fires each year. Heating fires can be especially deadly, as they often occur at the worst possible time, breaking out in the middle of the night while our families are asleep. The number one safety recommendation is to first and foremost have working smoke alarms throughout the home, especially in all sleeping areas. Having working smoke alarms dramatically increases your chances of surviving a fire.
According to NFPA’s latest heating equipment statistics, there was an annual average of 48,530 fires home heating fires between 2014 and 2018, resulting in an estimated 500 civilian deaths, 1,350 civilian injuries, and $1.1 billion in direct property damage.
Preventing Home Heating Fires
A leading factor contributing to home heating fire deaths was heating equipment too close to things that can burn, such as upholstered furniture, clothing, mattress, or bedding. Many heating fires can be prevented by following basic safety tips when dealing with any heating equipment:
- Keep or maintain a 3 foot clearance between all heating equipment and anything that can burn.
- Inspect and maintain heating equipment regularly for safety.
- Be sure to have fixed space heaters installed by a qualified technician, according to manufacturer’s instructions or applicable codes. Or, make sure a qualified technician checks to see the unit has been properly installed.
- When buying a new, portable space heater, make sure it has the label showing it is listed by a recognized testing laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL).
- Space heaters should be turned off every time you leave the room and before going to bed.
- Choose space heaters that turn off automatically if they tip over.
- Never use a space heater to dry clothing.
- Do not use your oven to heat your home.
- Install smoke alarms in every bedroom, outside each sleeping area, and on every level of the home. For the best protection, interconnect all smoke alarms throughout the home. When one sounds, they all sound.
- Test smoke alarms monthly.
- If your home is equipped with gas appliances, install and maintain carbon monoxide alarms to avoid risk of carbon monoxide poisoning