In January, five people — including four small children — died in a house fire in Pike County. On March 9, seven people died in a Knox County house — five of them children. Last week in Wayne County, three people died in a fire, including a child.
In Harlan County earlier this year in February, a man was severely burned in a fire at Verda and later died as a result of his injuries.
The death toll from house fires in the state is climbing, with 22 deaths reported already this year.
State Fire Marshal William Swope admits the surge in fire related deaths in the state in recent months is “frustrating” to him and his staff.
Swope said the two primary causes of fatal fires are alternative heating sources and fan motors or equipment failure.
With the rash of deaths, Swope said fire officials across the state are more than ever determined to promote the importance of having operating smoke detectors or alarms in homes.
Sadly, he said, in some cases fire deaths result from the lack of a smoke detector in the home or building, while in others it is the lack of a having a working smoke detector.
“One is no better than the other… the smoke detector is a line of defense,” he said.
“In most cases, there is a connection where weather is concerned,” said Swope, adding winter months traditionally have significant more fire related deaths than are recorded in warmer months.
October to March usually have the greatest number of fire death activity, he said.
“Unfortunately, most people think that these type of things won’t happen to them, but they do,” he said.
“Make fire safety a priority,” he urged.
Prevention is a matter of safe practices, he said. Some important tips to remember are:
- When you use a space heater, it is vital to read the manufacturer’s directions and operate accordingly;
- Don’t leave heaters unattended;
- Turn off heaters before going to sleep;
- Keep all objects a minimum of 3 feet from the heating source;
- Watch the use and try to avoid using if possible extension cords for heaters and other appliances.
He said fire officials don’t know the number of saves or the number of near misses when recording data on fires because most of the time those with working smoke detectors manage to escape.
He stressed education on the importance of smoke detectors is vital and encouraged everyone to help spread the word.
Sixty-three people died in Kentucky house fires in 2012. By this time last year, there had been only four in Kentucky. However, the number has surpassed 20 again this year, with 22 recorded after last week’s tragedy.
“I think that this year, because we have had so many so close together, and it’s involved multiple loss of life, that it has brought more attention to the situation,” Swope said. “These communities that suffer these losses never get over them.”
He said that if there is a silver lining it is that fire service personnel in the communities band together after such tragedy to provide education and prevention measures. He said an inspection association was recently formed in Pike County following the multiple fire deaths there.
On occasion state and local fire officials work to distribute smoke alarms.
“We attempt to provide communities with these detectors when we can,” he said, adding that 10,000 were distributed in a campaign a few years ago. He said most recently, following a tragedy in Pike County, firefighters distributed and installed 250 of the alert devices.
Anyone with questions or concerns about smoke detectors and fire alarms should contact their local fire department.
Reach Jeff Phillips at 573-4510 or firstname.lastname@example.org