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Fire survey asks burning questions

October 11, 2003|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

Unattended stoves remain the leading cause of serious fires in Hagerstown, but 62 percent of a survey group was unaware of that fact, according to numbers released this week by the Hagerstown Fire Department.

Hagerstown Fire Department spokesman Mike Weller said that represents a slight increase over previous years and means more residents are aware of fire hazards in their homes. But citing this year's survey, he said there is still a significant number of people who should take more precautions to prevent house fires.

City fire officials have visited homes throughout the city every year since 1997, Weller said. The main survey area alternates between eastern and western portions of downtown Hagerstown, divided by North Potomac Street.

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The survey addressed 1,345 homes in Hagerstown this year in the eastern portions of the downtown and developments near Municipal Stadium and Noland Village.

Weller said there were about 50 serious fires in the city from June 2002 to May 2003, the time from last year's survey to this year's. He said a serious fire was one that caused $100 or more worth in damages.

He said nearly half of the fires were grease fires caused when appliances were left alone.

"That stove can turn into a blowtorch in three minutes ... with a flame as high as the ceiling," Weller said.

He said residents should use fire extinguishers or place a lid over fire and turn off the heat. He said not to use water, which can spread a grease fire, or baking soda or salt, which are only marginally effective.

The other portion of the survey was to find out how many homes were equipped with smoke detectors.

Weller said 85 percent of the homes visited had adequate smoke alarm protection - operable detectors less than 10 years old. That number remained steady from the 2001 period, when the same area was surveyed.

However, 122 homes were given smoke detectors, 80 homes were given batteries and 57 properties were referred to the State Fire Marshal's Office for code violations, according to the survey.

As a result of the survey, 144 homes in the Woodcrest Village complex off Wilson Boulevard are upgrading their smoke detectors, Weller said.

Weller said residents "need to take that higher level of responsibility." By changing some routines, he said, "We may not eliminate all the fires, but we are going to reduce the occurrence of significant fires."

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