Deadly winter fires on the rise in Michigan

BIG RAPIDS — The number of deadly home fires in Michigan appear to be on the rise this winter and state officials are urging residents to use caution to keep their families safe.

These fires are often due to careless smoking, unattended candles, space heaters, wood stoves and fireplaces, or faulty electrical wiring, said Michigan State Fire Marshal Richard Miller in a press release.

“Just two weeks into 2015, and we’re already seeing an increase in the number of home fires and related fatalities,” said Miller. “We’re especially seeing more fires in modular or mobile homes and apartments, injuring or taking the lives of children and the elderly, as residents look to alternative sources of heat to try and keep warm.”

While statistics may be up statewide, Big Rapids Department of Public Safety Deputy Director Steve Schroeder said the number of fires the department’s fire division has handled in the last few weeks is about average for this time of year.

“We haven’t seen an increase compared to last year for this point in the early new year,” Schroeder said. “So far in 2015, we have responded to two fires as mutual aid. One was trailer fire where we assisted Big Rapids Township Fire Department and the other one we assisted was this week’s home fire near Morley.”

The Barryton Fire Department also hasn’t seen an increase in the number of fires responded to this winter, but Chief Terry Vogel said space heaters have been involved in recent fires.

“With the increase in fuel prices we see more people using space heater and we’ve had more fires from those,” Vogel said. “One fire was caused by a damaged cord to a space heater, while another was too close to the curtains. If people are going to use those for heating sources, they must make sure to read the warnings from manufacturers.”

Miller recommends keeping anything that can burn at least three feet away from any type of heat source or equipment such as a fireplace, wood burning stove or portable space heater.

“Simple precautions can prevent deadly consequences,” said Miller.

Whether living in a single family dwelling, apartment, or mobile home, make sure it is well-equipped with multiple, working smoke alarms in sleeping and living areas; interconnect them so when one alarm sounds, they all sound, Miller said.

Smoke alarms should be tested at least once a month and batteries replaced at least once a year. Never remove or disable alarms. Make sure children and elderly people in know the sound of the alarm.

Have a home fire escape plan that the entire family has practiced that includes two, easy ways out of every room and an outside meeting place. Make sure you can open and get out of windows and doors.

According to Miller, the peak time for home fire fatalities is between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. when most families are sleeping.

“When a fire occurs, get out quick and stay out. Escape first, closing doors behind you if possible. Quickly gather at your meeting place and then notify the fire department by calling 9-1-1 from a safe location,” said Miller. “Your firefighters are specially trained and equipped to rescue your family and pets, as well as to protect your possessions. Help your firefighters by remaining together outside the home and directing them to endangered family.”

Other fire safety tips include:

  • Never use a range or oven to heat your home. Along with being a potential fire hazard, it can be a source of potentially toxic fumes.
  • If buying a space heater, make sure it has an automatic shut-off switch. Never use it in the bathroom or other areas where it may come in contact with water. Keep the kids and pets a safe distance away and turn it off when leaving a room or going to bed.
  • Those who smoke should do so outside the home.
  • Make sure the fireplace has a sturdy screen to stop sparks from flying into the room. Ashes should be cool before putting them in a metal container.
  • Never leave candles burning in an unoccupied room.
  • In the event of a power outage, portable generators should only be used outside and away from buildings, to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Clear snow away from all exterior doors so you can get out fast in the event of an emergency.
  • Clear away snow from fire hydrants so they are clearly visible.