MCFRS News Release

Put Butts in Their Place

Recent Fires are Cause for Alarm
Fire-Safe Cigarettes Could Save Lives!

Several recent fires associated with improperly discarded smoking materials have resulted in several injuries, dozens of residents being displaced, and have caused millions of dollars in damage. Outside fires involving decks and/or the combination of landscaping mulch in combination with discarded smoking materials also have been particularly troublesome.

Of course we hope that people don’t smoke in the first place, but if they choose to do so we suggest that they be careful when disposing of cigarette butts and other smoking materials. Use appropriate containers, ie. ashtrays or other non-combustible receptacles. Designate safe smoking areas and isolate those areas preferably away from buildings and away from anything combustible such as landscaping mulch, wood decks, furniture, etc. If you smell smoke or any other peculiar burning odor – call the fire department immediately by dialing 911.

Around 4:30 in the morning on Saturday, May 6, 2006 units from the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service responded to a building fire in the 300 block of Cross Green Street, near Market Square in the Lakelands, in Gaithersburg.

First arriving firefighters encountered heavy fire on the upper floors and roof area of a residential condominium apartment building. It took 85 firefighters about one hour to bring the fire under control. There were no injuries. Montgomery County Fire and Explosive Investigators believe the fire was started by improperly discarded smoking materials on an upper rear deck and then extended up the exterior vinyl siding to the roof before being noticed by residents. Eventually, there was a structural collapse that resulted in significant damage. Several buildings nearby were evacuated for fear of an additional collapse.

Damage was estimated to be $2,25 million, $1.5 million to the structure and $750,000 to the building’s contents. Several condominiums in the building of origin were condemned by a City of Gaithersburg building inspector. The Red Cross assisted at least a dozen displaced residents and their pets.

Since April 2005, there have been six (6) residential fire fatalities in Montgomery County. Of these six residential fire fatalities, all were senior citizens over the age of 75, five (5) died in fires caused by careless smoking and/or improperly discarded smoking materials. The one other fire fatality last year occurred as result of a kitchen fire.

Earlier this year, on Sunday, February 26, 2006, Francis Richard Deleo, of Rockville, Maryland, age 84, died of complications associated with injuries sustained when he attempted to extinguish a fire in his house started by a discarded cigarette. On Thursday, February 9, 2005, just after 5 p.m., units from the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service responded to a house fire at 1201 Gladstone Drive. First arriving firefighters encountered heavy fire conditions throughout the two-story house. Three of the home’s occupants were transported to area hospitals along with an injured firefighter. An 84 year old male resident was hospitalized in critical condition suffering from serious burns and smoke inhalation. He died 17 days later. Fire Investigators believe the fire started in a couch as the result of an improperly discarded cigarette.

On Saturday, March 11, 2006, a passer-by rescued an elderly woman from a burning house at 7300 Brenish Drive, in Gaithersburg. The cause of the fire was improperly discarded smoking materials. The area of origin was outside near the wooden deck. The fire more than likely burned, unnoticed for some time, extending up the outside of the house, into the walls and eventually into the second floor and through the roof. Damage was estimated to be at least $200,000. A family of four, possible six were displaced by the fire. Approximately 50-60 firefighters arrived on the scene and it took about 20 minutes to bring under control.

Last year on Thursday, April 14, 2005 a fire believed to have been started by improperly discarded smoking materials in an 11th floor apartment at the Blair East Apartments, located 1220 East West Highway, resulted in two fire fatalities and caused over $335,000 in damages. Hundreds of people were evacuated and about a dozens were displaced.

Improperly discarded smoking materials is one of the leading causes of fire and contributes to millions of dollars in property damage, including well over $10 million in total loss during the last three years in Montgomery County alone (including nearly $2 million just this past weekend). Smoking materials (i.e., cigarettes, cigars, pipes, etc.) are the leading cause of fire deaths in the United States.

Last legislative session, Maryland considered legislation that advocates reduced-ignition strength (“fire-safe”) cigarettes. California recently passed legislation mandating the sale of fire-safe cigarettes joining New York, Vermont, and all of Canada in requiring the use of such cigarettes. Many other states, including our own, are considering and are working to pass similar bills.

A recent preliminary report out of New York showed that the number of deaths caused by cigarette-ignited fires dropped significantly after implementation of that state’s fire-safe cigarette requirement. In addition, a recent Harvard School of Public Health study found that the New York mandate had no negative effect on cigarette sales in that state and no significant effect on the health risks of smoking from the new cigarette technology. The research shows that consumers have accepted fire-safe cigarettes. In fact, the Harvard researchers found no valid reason why cigarette manufacturers should not sell fire-safe cigarettes all across the country.

Smoking Safety Tips

Important Points