A recent spike in fatal fires across Ohio has prompted the State Fire Marshal to issue a plea to residents to take extra precautions as cold, wintry weather moves in.
Marshal Larry Flowers’ plea comes on the heels of 10 Ohioans, including two children, dying in five fires in the final week of October.
“This tragic loss of life is made more difficult knowing that most fires and fire deaths can be prevented. This number also alarms me because winter heating season is just beginning – we typically see an increase in fires and fire deaths during the winter, and I’m concerned that this could be the start of a trend,” Flowers wrote.
The recent fatalities spiked in part because of two multiple fatality fires on Oct. 23 - one in Steubenville killed two children and an adult and another in Lawrence County killed four, according to records from the State Fire Marshal’s Office.
The other three deaths were in separate fires on Oct. 30 in Pike, Lake and Jefferson counties.
Richland County has not had any fatal fires this year.
Despite the recent spate of fatal fires, the number of fire fatalities in 2016 is on pace to be lower than the 103 deaths in 2015. In the first 10 months of the year, there were 71 Ohioans killed in fires and no firefighters have been killed compared to six firefighter deaths in 2015.
Although the official cause of fires isn’t always determined - 18 percent of 16,534 fires reported across Ohio in 2015 were determined unknown - cooking tends to be the most prevalent cause. About 29 percent of 2015 fires in Ohio were from cooking. However, injury and fatalities often occur, in part, due to a lack of preparation.
Flowers offers five tips to improve safety:
1. Have working smoke alarms. In more than half of the fatal fires we investigate, there were no signs of working smoke alarms. Test your smoke alarms monthly, and replace any smoke alarms that are more than 10 years old. Many local fire departments give out free smoke alarms, and some will even install them for you.
2. Have two ways out. Write down at least two escape routes from every room, and practice them. Make sure the paths are clear so you can get out quickly – or firefighters can get to you.
3. Take precautions with heating sources. Each year, approximately 1,500 fires in Ohio are caused by a heating source. Keep your furnace in good working order, and never leave wood burning fireplaces unattended. Ensure portable heaters are at least 36 inches away from combustible materials, and only use space heaters that have a tip switch that shuts off the device if it tips over.
4. Get out and stay out. Call 911 from your cell phone or a neighbor’s house. Never go back inside for a family member, pet or belongings – firefighters have the training and equipment to rescue people.
5. Check on elderly neighbors and family. Make sure they are fire safe – check that their smoke alarms are working, and that they are using heating sources properly.