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Investigators say child playing with matches set blaze

March 04, 2005|by BRIAN SHAPPELL

shappell@herald-mail.com

Investigators from the Hagerstown Fire Marshal's Office said Thursday that a downtown blaze last week was set by a toddler who found a pack of matches, according to a release from the Hagerstown Fire Department.

City fire marshals determined the fire, reported at about 1:15 p.m. Friday at 125 E. Washington St., began after a 4-year-old used matches to ignite the bed covers and a mattress inside a third-floor bedroom. The release stated the fire - which spread across the roof to include 121, 123 and 127 E. Washington St. - was listed as accidental because the child is younger than 7 years old.

Hagerstown Fire Department Public Educator Mike Weller said it was the second time in less than a month that a blaze was started by an unattended child younger than 5 years old. The other fire occurred Feb. 4 at 423 S. Potomac St. when a child lighted a bed.

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He said they were the first substantial child-related fires in the city in several years.

"Just when you think you're doing really well, the problem seems to raise its head again," Weller said.

In last week's blaze, firefighters remained at the scene for more than six hours and 35 people were displaced, though no serious injuries were reported. Six children had to be evacuated from two nearby apartments.

Washington County Sheriff's Department Deputy Dave Norford ran into a smoke-filled apartment at 127 E. Washington St. to evacuate three of the children, who had been sleeping.

"We could have easily lost six young people in that fire," Weller said. "Dave Norford deserves a lot of credit for what he did. His actions were very heroic."

Weller said the recent incidents serve as a reminder of why educating children of the dangers of fire is so critical.

"All children are naturally curious about fires. We stress to adults that they need to face that curiosity head-on, with age-appropriate education," Weller said.

He said such lessons should be taught "as soon as a child is able to tell a tool from a toy."

The department released the following tips following the recent fires:

· Supervise young children closely.

· Keep matches/lighters in a secured area.

· Check under beds and in closets for burned matches.

· Teach children to tell adults when they have found matches/lighters.

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