NASHVILLE — The latest tally of January fire fatalities has the Tennessee State Fire Marshal’s Office (SFMO) urgently renewing its call that residents turn their focus to fire prevention during the high-risk winter months.
Current SFMO data indicates that 15 fatal fires caused 20 fatalities in Tennessee during January 2018, making it the third-deadliest month for fire deaths since 2010 (December 2016 had 24 deaths; January 2010 had 21 deaths). Historically, January leads all other months in residential fires, heating fires and fatal fires in Tennessee.
“While fire safety efforts are important all year long, winter brings more fire-related tragedies in Tennessee than any other season — and this winter had an especially deadly start,” said State Fire Marshal and Tennessee Department of Commerce & Insurance (TDCI) Commissioner Julie Mix McPeak. “With two more months of winter still ahead, we are urging Tennesseans to follow safety precautions in order to avoid common winter fire hazards and help prevent fire-related deaths.”
The brutally cold weather the Volunteer State has experienced this year has played a significant role in elevating the fire death toll. In Tennessee, nearly half (46.8 percent) of all fatal fires occur between November and February. When the temperature drops below 32 degrees, Tennesseans are 40 percent more likely to have a home fire than if it were above 32 degrees. For temperatures below 15 degrees, Tennesseans are twice as likely to have a fire.
While all data has not been gathered, heating fires are believed to be a major contributing factor for the increase in fires and fire deaths. SFMO data indicates that 37.7 percent of fatal heating fires may have been caused by electric space heaters. The second leading possible source of ignition was wood stoves at 23 percent.
“Tennesseans can help avoid the devastation of a heating fire by remembering a few simple safety tips,” said TDCI Deputy Commissioner Gary West. “Always turn off portable space heaters when leaving a room, test smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors to ensure they’re working, practice a home fire escape plan with your family, and always close the door behind you if you have to escape a fire.”
To reduce fire deaths, the SFMO coordinates a monthly fire fatality team meeting to review fatal fire incidents, identify trends, and discuss ways to prevent the incidents from reoccurring. In addition, the SFMO works with local fire departments to offer free door-to-door smoke alarm installations as part of its successful “Get Alarmed” program.
The SFMO encourages Tennesseans to use these basic guidelines to help prevent deadly winter fires:
- Keep anything that can burn at least three feet away from a furnace, fireplace, wood stove, or portable space heater.
- Remember to turn portable heaters off when leaving the room or going to bed.
- Check electrical cords for space heaters and other appliances to make sure they are not frayed or damaged.
- Never use your oven to heat your home.
- Always use the right kind of fuel, specified by the manufacturer, for fuel burning space heaters.
- 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. Keep the container a safe distance away from your home.
- Install smoke alarms on every level of the home, including the basement.
- Replace alarms that are 10 years old or older.
- Make a home fire escape plan. Have two ways out of every room in the home if possible and a designated outside meeting place. Practice the plan with everyone who lives in the home.
- Always remember to close the door behind you when escaping a fire.
For more home fire safety information or to download a free copy of the 2018 Tennessee State Fire Marshal’s Office calendar, visit tn.gov/fire.