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Seven people die each day in home fires, says study


by: COLUMBIA RIVER FIRE AND RESCUE - A fire destroyed a historic bunkhouse at a Hancock Drive residence April 19. While the cause is not yet known, many recent fires in St. Helens have been tied to electrical issues, said Columbia River Fire and Rescue Chief Jay Tappan.Seven people die each day in U.S. home fires, says a national five-year study, but local fire agencies say the little things can count when it comes to home fire prevention.

Columbia River Fire and Rescue has responded to multiple home fires in the St. Helens area this April. No one has been injured or killed, but the fires have displaced families and destroyed homes as well as damaging nearby buildings.

The causes of the fires have varied, from a running clothes dryer to other electrical issues. Some of the causes are still unknown, but many fires can be prevented if homeowners are extra vigilant, said Columbia River Fire and Rescue Chief Jay Tappan.

“We have a lot of older homes in our area and the wiring has been in place for a long time and is probably not sufficient for modern uses like computers, TVs, hair dryers, microwaves, etc.,” Tappan said.

Faulty wiring is to blame in an April 22 fire on N. Vernonia Rd. that heavily damaged a single story residence. The fire was located in the attic and most of the ceiling needed to be torn out to get to the fire. The house, empty at the time of the fire, also suffered from extensive water damage during firefighting efforts.

Nationwide, cooking equipment remains the leading cause of home fires and home fire injuries, according to a report released by the National Fire Protection Agency.

Locally, clothes dryers have also been a common cause of fires over the past few years, Tappan said. One family was displaced Easter morning after a running clothes dryer sparked a fire that completely gutted their home.

“Many homeowners think they just need to clean the mesh screen at the front or top of the dryer, but the exhaust ducting behind the dryer needs to be cleaned frequently as well,” Tappan said.

Many homes have “accordion-style” plastic vent tubing for their dryers and this, Tappan said, “will not contain a fire at all.” Instead, they melt and ignite anything combustible nearby, including items that may have fallen behind the dryer.

According to the National Fire Protection Agency’s study, U.S. fire departments responded to more than an estimated 300,000 home structure fires from 2007 to 2011.

Roughly one in every 320 households per year had reported a home fire during this period. The fires caused more than 2,000 deaths per year and resulted in $7.2 billion in direct property damage per year.

Half of the fires that resulted in death occurred late at night or early in the morning and many of the homes had no smoke alarms or smoke alarms that weren’t working.

“Installing and maintaining these alarms could save a majority of the lives lost in home fires,” said Lorrain Carli, vice president of communications for NFPA. She suggested fire alarms working in conjunction with home sprinklers, but sprinklers were rarely present in the reported home fires according to a 2012 NFPA report.