Danie M. Huffman
When we fall asleep, usually the last thing on our minds is smoke detectors.
Many residents make homemade heating devices, which unknowingly places their families in danger.
Bob Hopkins, Weatherford Fire public information officer, said there have been 16 fires reported in the city since November.
The majority of those fires destroyed homes and displaced 13 families. He added the main causes are careless homeowners using heating appliances in manners they were never designed for and unattended candles. To top it off, Hopkins said many homeowners do not make sure they have working smoke detectors.
Requests from fire officials all over the nation were broadcast Tuesday during a press conference after death numbers climbed in recent months with non-working smoke alarms.
Authorities called this winter “one of the deadliest holiday seasons in recent memory.”
Numerous significant fires claimed record lives in the first days of 2009.
Since late November, more than 158 fires in the United States resulted in more than 200 fatalities.
“The 2008 holiday season and the start of 2009 may be recorded as one of the deadliest for residential fires in recent memory of the fire service,” United States Fire Administrator Greg Cade said. “Not only has there been a significant number of preventable fires, but the occurrences of multiple fatalities resulting from these fires are simply unacceptable within our nation. There should be a smoke alarm protecting every person in this nation today, particularly as we sleep.”
A family of four died in Kentucky Christmas Eve, which officials could not be sure of the smoke detectors were functioning.
Seven died in Philadelphia, including and three children, when gasoline was used to fuel a kerosene heater. Fire officials said there were no working smoke alarms found in the home.
A young couple died in Baltimore during a fire above a grocery store. Again, investigators found no working smoke alarms in the building.
Six people died New Year’s Day in Washington, D.C. While the cause was listed as an accidental electrical incident, officials are not certain smoke alarms worked properly.
Monday, eight people died in a residential fire in New York, while three people, including two teenage girls, died after an early morning house fire in Oklahoma.
A homeless shelter reportedly burned Monday in Paris, Texas, killing five people.
“We’re seeing more serious fires in the Weatherford area than we’ve seen in the last several years,” Hopkins said. “And property loss has increased in structure fires.”
Although it may be at the bottom of the to-do list, Hopkins strongly advises families construct an escape plan with a central meeting place.
He also suggests making sure all detectors are working properly, test them monthly and replace the batteries biannually at time change.
“Don’t use alternate unapproved forms of heat,” Hopkins said. “Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions on all electrical and fueled appliances.”
He added splicing wires is a large ignition source.
Two Weatherford house fires in December were caused by people splicing wires. In one instance, an outlet was installed for Christmas lights and another person spliced space heater wires to plug it in a hallway and reach into a living room.
“Space heaters were never designed to heat entire rooms, especially left running over night or when occupants are not home,” Hopkins said.
Yet another house fire was caused by a candle left unattended in a bathroom.
“We’ve been lucky so far that no one’s been hurt,” he said. “Every winter we have a fire started by a heat lamp with people trying to keep animals warm. Our last fatality was caused by a heat lamp two years ago.”
Although no residents were hurt in the recent blazes, a Weatherford firefighter was hospitalized for burns.
“There have been several incidents which could have turned out fatally,” he said.
In one fire caused by a homemade heating unit, Hopkins said the family only survived because they were not home at the time of the fire.
Danie M. Huffman
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