The peak time for a residential fire fatality to occur is between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. — when most families are asleep. This January saw 15 fire-related residential deaths in the state, compared to nine during the same span last year.

The peak time for a residential fire fatality to occur is between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. — when most families are asleep. This January saw 15 fire-related residential deaths in the state, compared to nine during the same span last year.

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With fatal house fires on the rise this winter, experts share prevention tips

By: Sherri Kolade | C&G Newspapers | Published February 7, 2018


METRO DETROIT — Troy resident Nino Licari still has questions after his home caught fire in February last year due to his dryer.

“(It’s) not even certain what caused it to ignite,” said Licari, the city assessor of Troy, adding that the Troy Fire Department and an independent investigator hired by his insurance company could only speculate. “There’s no definitive proof. Part of that is that the dryer was over 10 years old. Once it reaches that age, they do not send it to a lab for analysis.”

Licari, however, was told definitively by Troy Fire Department officials to keep his lint filter and dryer clean, and to keep the exhaust pipe clean, which he said he and his family were “meticulous” about. Dryer manual recommendations also recommend having the machine serviced every 18 months or sooner.

While there were no deaths from that incident, residential fires claimed the lives of 15 people in Michigan this January, up from nine in the same span last year, according to State Fire Marshal Kevin Sehlmeyer in a press release from the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, or LARA.

The release urges residents to use precaution this winter with space heaters, wood stoves and fireplaces. Sehlmeyer stated that each winter, inappropriate use, carelessness and accidents using alternative heating methods cause many residential fires and fire deaths in Michigan. 

“While all of these methods of heating are acceptable if used correctly, the incorrect use of some heating methods is a major contributing factor in residential fires and home fire fatalities,” he said. “Simply put, safety precautions must be taken with any of these heating methods to prevent deadly consequences.” 

The peak time for a residential fire fatality to occur is between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. — when most families are asleep, he said. 

According to the National Fire Protection Association, half of home-heating fires are reported during the months of December, January and February across the nation.

Sehlmeyer said that when a fire occurs, get out quick and stay out. Escape first, closing doors behind you as you leave by door or window. 

“Quickly gather at your meeting place and then notify the fire department by calling 911 from a safe location,” he said. “Help your firefighters by remaining together outside the home and directing them to endangered family.”

Tips in the press release also suggest interconnecting smoke alarms so that if one goes off in one room, another goes off in a different room. Upkeep of smoke alarms should include monthly testing and yearly battery replacement.

Farmington Public Safety Department Sgt. Reginald Madeline said preparation is crucial when preventing house fires, as well as having an escape route.

Madeline follows the acronym EDITH — exit drills in the home — which encourages having a planned escape route in case of a fire. 

“Draw a diagram of the house and come up with two ways out of each room of the house,” he said, including exiting through a door or window, adding that it is important to also decide on where to meet outside to ensure everyone is accounted for. 

Licari — who was able to move back into his house in late January — said that the first thing his family did was have an egress window installed in their basement.  

“We realized that if we had people down there when the dryer caught fire, there would have been no way out of the basement for them,” he said. 

According to the press release, winter home safety tips don’t only extend to fire prevention, but snow and ice too, because people are prone to falls and accidents in the colder months.

Experts suggest clearing snow away from exterior doors so people can get out of the home quickly in case of an emergency. 

Madeline said that tips from the National Safety Council encourage people, when walking on icy paths or snow-covered walkways, to take shorter steps. When coming inside from the outdoors, take your boots or wet shoes off to avoid slipping and falling on smooth floors.

“That would apply across the board — any one of us can fall,” Madeline said, adding that the city of Farmington has seen some slip-and-fall reports due to ice and snow and people not being careful.

He added that usually around this time, the city also sees heart attacks from people removing snow from their driveways and walkways. 

“Fortunately, we haven’t seen any of those yet — push (the snow) rather than lift it,” Madeline said.

Harrison Township Fire Department Chief Mike Lopez said he is not sure why there is an increase in residential fire-related deaths this year, which he called “disturbing.”

“I don’t know why … the number is going up, and it shouldn’t be because with technology and smoke detector availability, we shouldn’t be seeing those numbers on an increase, so it is really disappointing and really troubling,” he said.

Lopez added that the Harrison Township Fire Department provides tips for prevention, inspection and education. He noted that it’s sometimes easier to provide fire inspector services at businesses rather than at homes.

“Homes are challenging because unlike businesses — where we can send a fire inspector out and get into the business — we can’t do that … so when it comes to residences, we really try to focus on the education side,” Lopez said.

His fire department goes out to schools and teaches children, which he finds “very effective.”

“When you teach the children they need to have smoke detectors and exit drills in the home, the children do a great job of taking that message home and getting their parents to comply,” Lopez said.

His department also educates senior citizens, whom he described as a “vulnerable” group.

“We’ll send our fire inspector out anywhere that we are invited. … We go in and conduct inspections.”

Licari said that his house fire caused very little structural damage.

“The fire did not breach the roof,” he said, but there was a lot of smoke damage. 

Licari said that the original estimate of the damage of about $50,000 increased to almost $150,000. 

“Every single thing in the house had to be taken out, cleaned and stored until the repairs were made. There are different companies for everything,” Licari said. 

Chris VonHatten, product manager/estimator at Ferndale-based Emergency Response Services Inc., said that the restoration company helps insured residents find peace of mind when fire affects their homes and possessions.

“We come out as soon as we can,” VonHatten said.  “Restoration starts when we get the call — could be same day (as the fire).”

He said that a kitchen fire could cost between $25,000 and $65,000 in restoration services. 

“It all depends on the coverage of the insured,” VonHatten said, adding that it doesn’t matter the cause of the fire on his end, as long as insurance covers it. “We go in and we repair it; we take it out and put new stuff in.”

He added that insurance is only going to cover pre-loss conditions when it comes to valuables. If someone wants to upgrade their possessions, they could pay more.

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Tips on fire prevention at home

Never use the range or oven as a source to heat your home. The oven can become a source of high levels of carbon monoxide.

Never use an extension cord with a space heater.

If you buy a space heater, make sure it has an automatic shut-off switch.

Never use an electric space heater in a bathroom or other areas where it may come in contact with water.

Keep kids and pets a safe distance away from space heaters, and turn them off when leaving a room or going to bed.

Keep home furnishings, blankets and other objects at least 3 feet away from space heaters, fireplaces and wood-burning stoves. 

Carefully follow the manufacturer’s instructions or have a professional install wood-burning stoves. All fuel-burning equipment must be vented to the outside to avoid a buildup of carbon monoxide inside the home.

If you smell natural gas or propane near your furnace or your gas heater, do not try to light the appliance. Leave the home immediately, call 911 and request that the fire department and/or gas company respond to your home.

If using a space heater that requires fuel, always use the fuel specified by the manufacturer and refuel the heater outside the home. 

Make sure the fireplace and wood stove have a sturdy screen to stop sparks and embers from flying into the room.

Source: State Fire Marshal’s Office