First two structure fires of year battled

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 7, 2004

Suffolk News-Herald

Suffolk experienced its first two structure fires of the 2004 heating season, and firefighters are prepared for more.

The first fire took place around 1:05 a.m., Wednesday when a home in the 8800 block of Adams Drive was damaged when flames burned through the brick and mortar to the paneling surrounding the chimney.

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Suffolk’s Emergency Manage-ment Coordinator, Capt. James T. Judkins of the Suffolk Fire Department, said the homeowner, Patricia Jackson, was fortunate because the blaze was quickly contained, and it caused only about $1,500 in smoke damage to the $150,000 home. Of the estimated $40,000 in contents, the damage was estimated at $1,000.

Battalion Chief Tom Nichols and his firefighters responded to the scene, and they were able to quickly confine the flames to the chimney area, preventing further damages.

No one was injured in the fire.

The second fire call came in at 9:20 a.m. when neighbors reported smoke coming from the rear of a single story frame house in the 5800 block of Whaleyville Boulevard.

Firefighters from the Whaleyville Fire Station #8 found the home’s occupant, Fred Hall, in the yard and he informed them that no one was inside the house.

As they investigated the source of this fire, it was determined that it was caused by a defect in a cordless drill. Hall had been charging the tool just before the fire and a distinct burn pattern pointed to an electrical outlet where the charger was operating.

There were no injuries in this fire, however, the $75,000 home sustained $10,000 in damages, with another $2,000 damages to the $15,000 in contents.

As Judkins said, the heating season is here and with temperatures dropping, the danger of home fires increases.

&uot;The latest statistics available are from 2002, where we experienced eight chimney fires that year,&uot; said Judkins. &uot;We also had a total of 109 building fires, 14 heater or furnace malfunction incidents, and another 46 fires related to cooking.&uot;

Heating equipment is the leading cause of home fires during the months of December, January and February, and trails only cooking equipment in home fires.


Facts from the National Fire Prevention Association show that across the nation in 1998, there were 49,200 heating equipment-related home fires reported to U.S. fire departments, resulting in 388 deaths, 1,445 injuries and $515 million in property damage. Also, two of every three home heating fires in the U.S. in 1998, and three of every four related deaths, were attributed to space heating equipment.

&uot;All types of common space heating equipment are involved in home fires: portable electric heaters, portable kerosene heaters, wood stoves, fireplaces with inserts and room gas heaters,&uot; said Judkins. &uot;Common causes of space heating home fires are: lack of regular cleaning, leading to creosote build-up, in wood-burning devices and associated chimneys and connectors. Fires also result when you fail to give space heaters space, by installing or placing them too close to combustibles. Other causes include basic flaws in the construction or design of wood burning heating equipment; and fueling errors involving liquid- or gas-fueled heating equipment.&uot;

While home heating equipment is no longer the single most substantial cause of home fires, it remains one of the leading factors contributing to fires, as well as to fire-related injuries and deaths. In particular, according to the NFPA, portable and fixed space heaters present a risk of harm. While portable space heaters are not the major cause of home heating fires, they play a much more substantial role in deaths and injuries.

Portable and fixed space heaters (and their related equipment such as fireplaces, chimneys and chimney collectors) accounted for roughly two of every three, or 65 percent, of home heating fires in 1998 and three of every four associated deaths. Each of these devices has a higher death rate per million households using them than do the various types of central heating units or water heaters.

&uot;While portable heaters do not cause more fires than central heating units, they are associated with significantly more deaths, more injuries, and more direct property damage, than are central units,&uot; said Judkins.