The Number Of Michigan House Fire Fatalities Has Doubled Since 2019

February 11, 2020

The number of house fire fatalities in Michigan during the first five weeks of 2020 has doubled compared to the first five weeks of 2019. As of February 6, 2020, up to 22 people have died in Michigan in 16 different house fires. That’s a 100% increase compared to the same time in 2019.

According to Michigan fire marshal Kevin Summers, the majority of homes involved in the fires this year weren’t properly equipped with working smoke detectors. A Grand Rapids home where a mother and three children died on February 5, 2020, was among them.

“It’s an old adage,” said Scott Brooks, a Kalamazoo fire marshal, “we’ve been saying it for years and years. Check your smoke alarms.”

Winter is typically the worst season for house fires. But this is the deadliest January for house fires Michigan has seen in the last four years. Just last year, 11 Michiganders died in house fires between January 1 and February 6. During that same time in 2018 and 2017, 16 Michiganders died.

One of the biggest causes of house fires today aside from nonworking smoke detectors is the flammability of modern materials. Furniture and clothing are increasingly made from synthetic materials and plastics. This makes house fires that much more deadly.

“If you’re looking at a traditional house fire with more of modern furnishings, they burn a lot hotter and there’s a lot more black smoke,” said Brooks. “That black smoke is all the hydrocarbons that are burning, and that black smoke is what’s going to contain all those deadly gases.”

Modern materials also cause houses to burn faster. According to fire safety research institute Underwriters Laboratories, families used to have up to 17 minutes to escape a house fire, but today they have three minutes or less.

To help combat fire-related deaths and injuries, the state of Michigan used grant funding to buy thousands of carbon monoxide and smoke detectors in 2019 for local agencies to distribute. Approximately 20,000 smoke alarms and 6,000 smoke detectors were installed. A combination of early warning systems and automatic sprinklers in buildings can also reduce the risk of injury, death, and property damage by 50%. Many fire departments across the state offer free smoke detector installation.

“We’ll install it and actually get it in the right place and make sure that it’s properly installed,” said Brooks. “Because the worst thing that can happen is [we] give you a smoke detector, it [doesn’t] get installed, and then something happens.”

In addition to installing smoke detectors and carbon monoxide alarms, families are also recommended to practice the following winter fire safety tips:

  • Never leave candles unattended. Keep candles away from flammable materials and curtains. Always blow out candles before going into another room.
  • Keep items away from your furnace. Keep items at least five feet away from your furnace and make sure your furnace is serviced regularly. Up to 75% of no-heat calls to HVAC services during the winter are due to a lack of furnace maintenance.
  • Never let space heaters run unattended. Space heaters are incredibly dangerous when left unattended. Never leave a space heater alone and keep flammable materials away from it. If possible, insulate your home to reduce your need for a space heater at all. Simply choosing the right roofing materials and servicing your roof twice a year can reduce your home’s energy needs by 30% because of improved insulation.
  • Be careful with power outlets. Never plug in too many electronics into one outlet. Electrical system failures and appliance defects can cause appliances or outlets to short circuit and ignite.

To reduce your risk of a house fire, make sure you have smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors installed. Check your detectors regularly to make sure they’re working. Practice a fire escape plan with your family, too, to ensure everyone knows how to get out of the house in three minutes or less.

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