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Significant fires up for fourth straight year

February 22, 2007|by KAREN HANNA

HAGERSTOWN - Whether they left space heaters unattended or discarded smoldering cigarettes, many of the victims of fires within the City of Hagers- town made one mistake before their belongings went up in flames, a fire official said.

"The person simply didn't think of what could happen prior to doing what they did," said Mike Weller, fire prevention officer for the Hagerstown Fire Department, which has responded to three house fires since Saturday.

The fire department is battling its fourth straight year of an increase in significant fires, Weller said.

Since Saturday, fires have destroyed apartment units on South Locust, West Washington and South Prospect streets.

Families in Cascade, Boonsboro and Clear Spring were displaced by a string of fires beginning Jan. 19, said Bob McEnroe, a volunteer for the American Red Cross of Washington County.

The agency was helping 23 people from eight families Wednesday, McEnroe said.

"It has strained our budget. In these past two weeks, we've spent a little over $5,000 in donated dollars to help these fire victims," McEnroe said

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Victims of apartment fires, such as the three over the past few days in Hagerstown, often have no renters' insurance, McEnroe said. They have to start all over, he said.

"How many people have insurance? Not enough," State Farm Insurance Co. agent Steve Swayne said. He said coverage for $30,000 to $75,000 worth of belongings can cost $150 to $200 a year.

"It's like everything else in life. No one ever thinks it will happen to them," Swayne said.

On Wednesday, firefighters were at the scene of another blaze - a garage fire at 63 Devonshire Ave.

Hagerstown Assistant Fire Marshal Douglas DeHaven said portable heaters used to thaw equipment started the fire.

"They walked away from the area for a while, and something ignited. There's all kinds of ignitable materials in there," DeHaven said.

The causes of the other recent Hagerstown fires were not released Wednesday.

Cold temperatures can cause people to take desperate measures indoors to stay warm in the winter, Weller and McEnroe said.

"Firefighters everywhere will see a spike in fires between the months of November and April, and they see the greatest number when it's the coldest," Weller said.

· People who are using portable heaters should never leave them running unattended, and they should place them no closer than three feet away from anything that is flammable. The heaters should not be used as primary sources of heat or when people are sleeping, Weller said.

· Kerosene always should be kept outdoors.

· People should avoid coiling or covering extension cords, which generate heat that can cause fires, Weller said.

· The Community Action Council can help people who have trouble paying their electric bills, Weller said.

"Don't resort to something desperate," Weller said.

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