House fires increase during the winter, with cooking, cigarettes still being the main causes

When it comes to fire deaths, the most dangerous months of the year are often the coldest, says a former London-area fire prevention officer.

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When it comes to fire deaths, the most dangerous months of the year are often the coldest, says a former London-area fire prevention officer.

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“Statistics show that a third of the deaths occurred in November, December or January,” said Frank Donati, coordinator of the Fire Inspection and Fire Safety Education Program at Fanshawe College and a former fire prevention officer in Ottawa and St. Catherines. “There have been more deaths during those months because people are distracted and busy with what they are doing. It is that time of the year; we are all in a hurry.”

When he worked as a fire inspector, Donati said his Christmas celebrations were often interrupted because he had to rush into a fire.

“People may take a drink or two or more and just forget about basic safety features that we take for granted on a daily basis,” he said.

The remains of a person were found inside a house on the Nova Scotia line in the town of Malahide after a fire on December 20.

Elgin OPP did not reveal the person’s name, but a family member said the remains belonged to Ken Jones, who lived on the rural property with his wife and grandson.

Fire officials said the fire was caused by a wood-burning stove in the basement.

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The two-storey house and all its contents were destroyed. There were no smoke alarms in the house.

During the first 11 months of 2021, the Ontario Attorney General’s Department said, there were 91 fatal fires resulting in 111 deaths. Donati said smoke detectors were not installed in 17 percent of residential fires and 14 percent had faulty smoke detectors.

Donati, who was not involved in the Malahide Township investigation, said fires caused by stoves or wood stoves are common in the winter months.

Donati recommends that the chimney be cleaned annually by a professional.

“A roaring fireplace is always indicative of Christmas. It seems like every movie and every moment in Hallmark has a burning fireplace,” Donati said. “Burning softwood or other materials in your fireplace can create a layer of creosote.

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“Only burn hardwood and don’t throw garbage. Pizza boxes are saturated with oil and that will build up in the chimney.”

But he said fires caused by stoves or fireplaces are not the most common cause of fires at this time of year.

Between 2010 and 2019, cooking fires were the number one cause of residential fires, followed by fires lit by cigarettes, the Department of Community Safety and Corrections said.

“There have been a lot of fires related to cooking, forgetting that pot on the stove when someone comes to the door and you start talking to someone you haven’t seen in a while,” Donati said.

hrivers@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/HeatheratLFP

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