MCFRS News Release

Prevent Fires - Save Lives - Here's How

Over $3 Million is Fire Damage in Two Weeks

Human Factors - Some Good and Others Not So Good!

The winter months of January and February are typically some the busiest for Fire Departments in this area. The last couple of weeks have been no exception in Montgomery County. In just 14 days, from Friday January 26, 2007, thru Friday, February 9, 2007, there have been over a dozen significant fires, complicated by the frigid weather resulting in nearly $3.5 million dollars in damage, causing several injuries and displacing dozens of families in Montgomery County.

Most recently, candles, fireplace ashes, chimneys, space heaters, electrical overloads, careless smoking and even 'spontaneous combustion' have all contributed to the cause of fires throughout the county. Some incidents resulted in notable damage and major disruption while others were discovered early and managed easily. Human factors, including appropriate and sometimes inappropriate human response to these factors affected the outcomes, some positive and dramatic, others not so good.

Several young victims rescued by firefighters on January 26, 2007 from a Kensington house fire remain in critical condition at Children's National Medical Center, in Washington, D.C. and a 36 year-old woman is still hospitalized at the MedStar Burn Unit as a result of burn injuries suffered on January 26, 2007 in a Bethesda house fire started by careless smoking. She was rescued by her landlord.

In the last two weeks the more notable incidents are:

On Thursday, February 8, 2007 a homeowner at 7420 Damascus Road, in Damascus put fireplace ashes in a plastic container and then placed the container in a garage. The fire was discovered early. Damage is estimated to be $10,000.

On that same date a passerby saw flames in a 3rd floor window of the Aspen Crossing Apartments located at 14110 Grand Pre Road, in Aspen Hill. The apartment was unoccupied. Residents had left a candle burning unattended and the curtains had caught on fire. Damage was estimated to be $5,000.

Once again on Thursday, February 8, 2007 a resident at 10515 Aubinoe Farm Drive, in Bethesda had misplaced a candle near a wicker planter in a bathroom. The candle eventually ignited the planter and other materials in the room and spreading smoke throughout the house. Damage was estimated to be less than $10,000, but the family was displaced.

In the aforementioned three incidents, property damage was minimal and there were not any serious injuries, primarily because the fires were noticed early, the response was swift and actions were decisive.

During a 24-hour period beginning around 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday, February 6, 2007 hundreds of Montgomery county firefighters were kept busy handling several multiple alarm structure fires.

An occupant at 309 Market Street, in historic Brookeville started a fire in a seldom used woodstove using oak floor pieces, saw dust, paper and roof shingles. He left the house for a short period of time and upon his return the house was on fire. The man eventually flagged down a passing motorist who called 911. It is believed the fire cause is associated with a failure in the woodstove or chimney. Factors contributing to the cause were lack of maintenance to the chimney, the burning of improper materials in a wood stove and a delay in alarm. Damage is estimated to be over $700,000. This was a 2-alarm fire. Several firefighters were injured from slips and falls.

About the same time on that date a small electrical fire in the laundry room of a building located at the Cider Mill Apartments in Gaithersburg resulted in about dozens of people being displaced. A resident was in the room located at 18329 Lost Knife Circle and heard a 'popping' noise. She alerted someone who called 911. A passing police officer used a fire extinguisher to stop the progression of the fire. However, there was major damage to the power supply for several buildings. The utilities were shut off as a precaution thus displacing about 150 occupants of four buildings. Damage was estimated to be in excess of $15,000.

Later that day, around noon, a homeowner at 1407 Oakview Drive, in Oakview accidentally started a fire by using a small propane torch to thaw frozen pipes in the walls of his house. At first he did not take action upon seeing smoke, but when fire became visible he attempted to extinguish himself. However he was unable to do so he then called 911. There was a delay of alarm. Damage at this 2-Alarm house fire was estimated to be at least $400,000 and a family of seven (7) is displaced.

Around 4:30 a.m., early the next morning, Wednesday, February 7, 2007 a 74- year old resident was burned after he tried to extinguish a fire in his house at 2437 Parallel Lane, in Fairland. Fire investigators believe earlier in the morning the man had attempted to fill a kerosene inside his house. He accidentally spilled some fuel and attempted to 'mop' it up with towels. The towels eventually ignited. The smoke alarm activated and the man hastily attempted to fight the fire and in doing so knocked the space heater over, thus intensifying the fire. He received burns to his leg at the same time.

A short time later he exited the house, but continued to look for his dog. There was a significant delay in alarm. A neighbor eventually called 911. Estimated damage at this 2-Alarm house fire was about $900,000 to the house and contents and another $25,000 to several burned vehicles and heat damage to the neighbor's house. The man remains in the hospital. One firefighter was injured. A family pet is presumed killed in the fire.

On Saturday, February 3, 2007 firefighters rescued five (5) children from a house fire at 9819 Connecticut Avenue, in Kensington. The cause of the fire is still under investigation and two 17 month old girls (twins) remain hospitalized in critical condition. A 12 year old girl, 7 year old boy, a 3 year old girl and the twins were rescued from the second floor. The twins were found unconscious. The fire started on the first floor and the smoke alarm did activate. The oldest child, age 12 called 911 and was very composed as the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service (MCFRS) dispatcher provided instructions. The family of seven is displaced. Damage is estimated to be at least $450,000.

Other fires later on this same date resulted in burn injury caused by a cooking accident at 7667 Maple Avenue, in Takoma Park. A 47 year old woman caught her clothing on fire reaching for a pot on the stove. She is expected to be treated and released. Damage was minimal. Around the same time firefighters were called to 19520 Taverney Drive, in Montgomery Village for a fire in a second floor bedroom. The fire was electrical in nature and caused by an overloaded wall socket. Damage was estimated to be about $30,000 and a family of five (5) was displaced.

Around midnight on February 1, 2007 'spontaneous combustion' in towels used for cleaning is believed to be the cause of a kitchen fire at 14225 Woodwell Terrace, in Layhill. Two occupants were displaced and the fire caused about $8,000 in damage. They were awakened by an odor of something burning and then an activated smoke alarm. Later, about 3:40 a.m. several occupants of a house at 12712 Gould road, in Glenmont were also awakened by an odor of smoke and an activated smoke alarm. An electrical malfunction of a window heater/air conditioner resulted in a fire that caused about $30,000 in damage. Ten (10) people were displaced.

Early on January 29, 2007 around 3:30 a.m. a police officer on patrol in Poolesville noticed smoke in the area and found the roof of townhouse on fire in the 19500 block of Fisher Road at the Meadow Valley Townhouses. Numerous people were evacuated from several nearby townhouse. The cause of the fire is believed to be associated with overuse (extended use) of the fireplace, age of the fireplace insert and flue pipe and overheating of the wood frame flue housing which caught the roof on fire. Damage at this 2-Alarm fire was estimated to be $350,000 and about a dozen people were displaced.

On the morning of January 28, 2007 a pedestrian noticed smoke in the 200 block of Market Street in the Kentlands. Once firefighters arrived in the area they soon discovered smoke coming from the roof of a three-story building that is occupied by commercial and residential units. Three businesses were displaced and several residences were evacuated. The fire originated as the result of a 'zero clearance' chimney where it exhausted from the commercial oven. The chimney housing overheated and caught fire that spread throughout the walls. Damage is estimated to be about $300,000.

Later that day, around 2 p.m. a garage fire at 9804 Hawkins Creamery Road, in Damascus was caused when residents were working on a car and fumes from fuel being drained came in contact with a nearby space heater. Damage was estimated to be about $150,000. The family was displaced.

Finally, about 8 p.m. on January 26, 2007 firefighters were called to a house fire at 9902 Inglemere Drive, in the Stratton Woods neighborhood of Bethesda. The house had a basement rental apartment. The homeowner's quick action saved her tenant's life and helped reduce the extent of damage.

A 36-year old resident, living in the basement had discarded a cigarette starting a fire in the kitchen and resulting in the victim's clothing catching on fire. In the meantime, a smoke alarm activated. The victim was rescued room the fire area and removed to safety by the homeowner who was alerted by the smoke alarm.

Damage was estimated to be approximately $40,000. Three persons were displaced. The victim suffered 2nd degree burns to approximately 20% of her body and possibly some inhalation burns. She continues to be treated at the MedStar Burn Unit in Washington, D.C.

Fire Investigators believe the decisive actions of the homeowner were life saving and by closing the door behind her on the way out kept property damage to a minimum.

There are time-tested ways to prevent and survive a fire. It's not a question of luck. It's a matter of planning ahead.

Remember - the message is simple:

Develop an Escape Plan - Identify two ways out of each room in your home, identify a meeting place for your family outside, practice your plan at least twice a year when you change your clock. Once Outside - Account for all family members at your designated meeting place, call 911 from a safe location, never go back inside a burning building for any reason.

Working Smoke Alarms Save Lives - Ensure you have a working smoke alarm on each floor of your home, additional smoke alarms can be placed in sleeping and kitchen areas, test your smoke alarms monthly, change the battery when you change your clock twice a year, if your smoke alarms are powered by your homes electrical system consider installing battery powered smoke alarms as a back up in case of a power outage.

For a free home safety evaluation in Montgomery County call the hotline at 240.777.2276 to schedule a time.

REMINDERS:

Kitchen Fires.
Most kitchen fires occur because food is left unattended on the stove or in the oven. If you must leave the kitchen while cooking, take a spoon or potholder with you to remind you to return to the kitchen. Never cook with loose, dangling sleeves that can ignite easily. Heat cooking oils gradually and use extra caution when deep-frying. If a fire breaks out in a pan, put a lid on the pan. Never throw water on a grease fire. Never use a range or stove to heat your home.
Space Heaters.
Buy only Underwriter's Laboratory (UL) approved heaters. Use only the manufacturer's recommended fuel for each heater. Do not use electric space heaters in the bathroom or around other wet areas. Do not dry or store objects on top of your heater. Keep combustibles away from heat sources. Give space heaters space!
Smoking.
We prefer that you don't smoke at all, but if you must - Don't leave smoking materials unattended. Use "safety ashtrays" with wide lips. Empty all ashtrays into the toilet or a metal container every night before going to bed. Never smoke in bed. Don't smoke when drowsy.
Candles.
Keep burning candles out of children's and pet's reach; keep matches and lighters out of sight and locked away. Make sure they are in stable holders. Do not leave candles unattended - especially around children or pets. Do not place candles near draperies or anything that might easily catch fire. Make sure you put out candles when you go to bed or leave the home.
Fireplace Ashes.
Remember never discard hot ashes inside or near the home. Place them in a metal container outside and well away from the house. Have your furnace and chimney professionally inspected and cleaned. Chimney tar build-up can ignite your chimney, roof and the whole house.