Disturbing increase in fatal fires

A recent review of provincial statistics for fatal fires has caused Corwin Quade, Madawaska Valley Fire Chief, to issue some important fire safety warnings for MV residents. Quade said that the worst year for fatal fires on record in Ontario was 2001 when 119 fire deaths were recorded. So far this year, there have been 42 fire deaths – with 32 of them during January and February – the highest toll for those two months since 1998. Quade warned that if this disturbing upward trend continues we will have a record we don’t want.

He said that Fire Departments and Ontario investigators have noticed a worrisome trend: no working smoke alarms in about one-third of the deadly fires, despite smoke alarms having been mandatory in Ontario for almost 50 years.

Further, fire deaths in Ontario soared to near-record levels during the first year of the pandemic, spiking in the coldest stretch of this winter to levels not seen in more than 20 years. This covered all kinds of fires, including those involving buildings and vehicles, but the vast majority involved residences. He said that the latest tragic fatal fire in Oshawa killed two men and two children.

The Fire Chief said the pandemic is at least partly to blame for more fires, with more people spending more time at home. That means more cooking and heavier use of household appliances — both factors that can cause fires. He said that fires from cooking left unattended are the biggest culprit. Cooking, careless smoking and electrical failure tend to be higher in the winter, with heating-related fires more common then.

Quade offered these tips to keep you and members of your household safe:

  • Make sure you have a escape plan
  • Establish a meeting place outside your home
  • Ensure both smoke and carbon monoxide alarms are in working order. A good tip is to change your batteries whenever the clocks change.

Quade shared some historical data

He said that Ontario’s death rate from fires has fallen dramatically since smoke alarms were made mandatory in 1975, plunging from 30.9 deaths per million people in 1980 to 7.8 deaths per million last year, government figures show. Sadly, last year’s death rate was up from 4.6 deaths per million people the year before.

The Ontario law on smoke alarms was beefed up in 2006 to require fire detection devices on every floor of a dwelling and outside all sleeping areas. Offenders can be ticketed $360 or fined up to $50,000; fines are double that for corporations. Carbon monoxide detectors, to alert people to poisonous gas emitted from fuel-burning appliances such as furnaces, are also required in all Ontario residences built after 2001. A law making them mandatory was enacted after a Woodstock family died of carbon monoxide poisoning in 2008.

Quade,C.,MV Fire Dept.(2021,Mar.26) Fatal Fires in Ontario heading for a record year [media advisory]

One comment

  1. Eve-Marie Chamot

    Smoke and CO alarms are certainly essential but don’t forget about fire prevention. Chimney fires due to creosote accumulation are one major cause of fires in this region since so many homes burn firewood for heating so it’s a good idea to have your chimney cleaned regularly. Another major cause of home fires is overloaded electrical cables resulting from over-fused circuits:- placing a heavier fuse of 20+ amps on a 15-amp circuit. This is surprisingly common in this area and definitely a bad idea! Do yourself a very big favor and check your fuse box and make sure that any fuse of 20 amps or more is actually cabled with cable of the same rating. Btw, furnace motors and even microwaves will sometimes “pop” a 15-amp fuse at start-up due to a momentary overload so you need to use time-delay fuses on those circuits or, even better, one of the newer resettable mini-breaker fuses.

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