That Spaulding Avenue blaze was among 21 fires across Ohio between Friday, Dec. 23, and Monday, Dec. 26, including five fatal fires that killed a total of 10 people, Ohio State Fire Marshal Kevin Reardon said in a Tuesday media briefing.
“It seldom happens that we have all of our field investigators deployed investigating fires, but for a time Friday, we did,” he said.
A total of 151 people have died by fire in Ohio this year — the most ever in one year and more than in 2013, which was the previous record year for fire fatalities.
“These are obviously records we’re not proud of. All of these fires — beyond the toll that it’s taken on family and friends of these victims — it takes a toll on the firefighters that respond to these fires,” Reardon said. “There’s so much tragedy it’s hard to define how far it goes.”
State fire marshal investigators are now looking into an early Monday, Dec. 26, fire that killed a family of six in Newcomerstown.
There, investigators found evidence of heating devices like a wood burner, kerosene heaters and electric space heaters that were “most likely not used in the proper manner, ” said Brian Peterman, an assistant bureau chief for investigations and explosions.
“Guys were going from one to the next,” said Jamie Stewart, an assistant bureau chief for investigations and explosions. “It was a very tragic weekend.”
State fire officials are encouraging diligence in making homes fire-safe in winter.
“We will find out over time that many of these fires were probably preventable in some way, shape or form — especially fires that involve alternative heating sources,” Reardon said.
Fire safety statistics and tips
More than 800 fires across the state this year were caused by improperly disposed cigarettes, said Anita Metheny, the fire marshal’s fire prevention assistant bureau chief.
More than 20 people have died in fires caused by smoking around medical oxygen, which is highly flammable and can saturate clothes, allowing them to quickly catch fire even after an oxygen tank is turned off, she said.
“If you need to smoke, turn the oxygen tank off. Turn it off first, then take the oxygen mask off your face. Leave it off for at least 5 to 10 minutes,” Metheny said.
Metheny also recommended:
Making sure chimneys are cleaned and creosote buildup cleared ahead of winter
Plugging space heaters directly into the wall, instead of a power strip
Avoid crowding space heaters with flammable articles like clothing — keep about three feet of space around them
More tips and guides can be found on the fire marshal’s website.
Inclement weather like last week’s blizzard, whose relentless winds covered Northeast Ohio roads with ice and blowing snow can delay fire response, Reardon warned.
“If the average citizen is having trouble driving on roads, if there’s a level-2 or level-3 alert in any particular county, the fire department response is going to be slow as well,” he said. “It’s very difficult to drive heavy apparatus on public roads.
“Any time the weather is significantly bad, fire department and emergency response are not going to be as reliable as it is,” Reardon said.