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State official recounts deadly 2005 fire toll

February 16, 2006|by ERIN CUNNINGHAM

WASHINGTON COUNTY

erinc@herald-mail.com

Seventy-three Maryland residents died in fires in 2005, according to the Maryland State Fire Marshal.

Four of these deaths were in Washington County.

All but 13 of the fatal fires across the state - and each of the four in Washington County - occurred in homes, the fire marshal said.

"People die in their homes," Deputy Chief State Fire Marshal Allen Gosnell said.

Careless smoking was the leading known cause of fatal fires in Maryland in 2005, and is believed to be the cause of death of 23 people - almost one-third of fire fatalities. Careless smoking also was the leading cause of fatal fires in 2004.

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Careless smoking was the cause of a fire that killed three Washington County residents in 2005. The cause of the fourth fatal fire in the county has yet to be determined. Gosnell said that case is under investigation.

Of the 60 fire deaths in homes, 49 people died in homes either without smoke alarms, without functioning smoke alarms or where investigators were unable to determine whether the alarm was functioning, the fire marshal said.

Fire deaths in Maryland have remained below 100 each year, except 1994, for the past 17 years. In that time, there have been an average of 84 fire deaths each year, while fatalities in Maryland averaged 130 each year from 1975 to 1988, the fire marshal said.

The number of fire fatalities has continued to decline recently, and fire deaths averaged less than 78 each year from 1996 to 2005. The 73 fire fatalities in Maryland in 2005 was the fourth-lowest annual total since 1975.

Gosnell said installing residential fire sprinklers could reduce the number of annual fire fatalities.

"Fire sprinklers could do what smoke alarms did in the 1970s," he said, referring to the drop in fire-related deaths after battery-operated smoke alarms became widely available.

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