Home fire risk higher in the winter: Safety tips for a safe holiday season

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SURREY Fire Service is reminding residents to take extra safety precautions this winter in the wake of new data that shows fires are more likely to occur when the weather is cold.

An analysis of 15,140 structure fires reported to the BC Office of the Fire Commissioner from 2009 to 2013 showed that fires are 14 per cent more likely in December and January than in July and August, and that nearly 75 per cent of fires occur in residential structures.

“Based on this new data, we know the risk of fire is higher in the winter and that most structure fires occur where people live and sleep,” said Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner on Tuesday. “It’s important that our residents are aware of the risks and that they protect themselves by taking extra safety precautions this winter.”

According to the data, the most frequent causes of fire are human failing (e.g. being asleep or distracted), misuse of materials ignited (e.g. overheated cooking oil) and misuse of equipment (e.g. fireplaces or heaters).

As for ignition sources, space heaters and other heating equipment are responsible for 11 per cent of the fires, exceeded only by smoking materials (18 per cent) and cooking equipment (29 per cent). From 2009 to 2013, 43 people were injured and eight died in B.C. from heating equipment fires, which occur three times more often from November to March than at other times of the year.

“Even one death or injury is too much, and we know from our analysis that we can expect a death in one in every 83 residential fires, and injuries in one in every 13,” said Surrey Fire Chief Len Garis. “The good news is there are many things people can do to make their homes safer. Simply having a working smoke alarm increases your chances of survival by more than 70 per cent, so it’s important to check them regularly.”

Surrey residents can sign up for a free smoke alarm inspection and installation at www.surrey.ca/freesmokealarm, or request a free HomeSafe home fire inspection at 604-543-6780.

Other winter safety precautions include:

* Installing smoke alarms on every floor and testing them regularly.

* Monitoring candles when lit and never leaving them unattended.

* Never leaving the kitchen unattended when food is being cooked.

* Keeping space heaters away from flammable materials (curtains, decorations etc.)

* Using extension cords properly and never overloading them.

* Keeping live Christmas trees watered and away from potential fire sources.

* Ensuring Christmas lights are in good repair and working properly.

The statistics also suggest a positive impact from Surrey’s proactive fire prevention initiatives, such as its award-winning HomeSafe program – which distributes free fire alarms and safety information in neighbourhoods with a high risk of fire – as well as programs targeting vacant buildings and residential marijuana grow operations. From 2009 to 2013, residential fires dropped by 23 per cent in Surrey, compared to 4.6 per cent across B.C.

More fire prevention information and tips can be found in the Surrey Fire Services section at www.surrey.ca.