MCFRS News Release

Garrett Park House Destroyed by Fire Started by a Cigarette

'Fire-Safe' (reduced-ignition) Cigarettes Could Save Lives and Property!

Resident Injured and Pets Killed

Just before 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday, March 14, 2007 units from the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service were dispatched for the report of a house fire in the 11200 block of Kenilworth Avenue, in Garrett Park. First arriving firefighters encountered heavy smoke and fire coming from the rear of a large 2½ story single family house located at 11204 Kenilworth Avenue.

About 75 firefighters responded to the 2-Alarm fire. A 63 year old occupant received 1st and 2nd degree burns over 30-40% of his body and suffers from smoke inhalation and was transported to the MedStar Burn Unit at Washington Hospital Center. He was injured attempting to extinguish the fire prior to calling the fire department. Neighbors called 911 to report the fire. Several pets, including a 7 year old yellow lab and two hamsters died in the fire.

Montgomery County Fire and Explosive Investigators believe the fire was caused by an improperly discarded cigarette in a combustible container on the rear deck.

The lone occupant of the house discovered the fire in its small stages and initially attempted to extinguish the fire with a bucket of water and as the fire intensified he utilized a nearby garden hose, to no avail. It is believed that he was burned in this process that may have taken as long as 10-15 minutes. He then ran to a neighbor for help. The neighbor had already called 911.

Damage is estimated to be in excess of $1 million dollars. A family of two will be displaced. The Red Cross is assisting. The home was built near the turn of the century, in the late 1800's, and is believed to one of the first homes built in historic Garrett Park. Damage to the home was significant.

Several recent fires associated with improperly discarded smoking materials in Montgomery County have resulted in several deaths, injuries, dozens of residents being displaced, and have caused millions of dollars in damage. Montgomery County Fire Chief Tom Carr recently testified in Annapolis (on February 15, 2007 and again on March 7, 2007) in order to support reduced-ignition cigarettes (or more commonly known as fire-safe) and the Cigarette Fire Safety Performance Standard and Firefighters Safety Protection Act.

A total of four (4) Montgomery County residents were killed in residential fires in the year 2006, three (3) out of these four (4) the result of fires ignited by smoking materials. This is compared to four (4) out of five (5) residential fire deaths that were started by smoking materials in 2005.

None-the-less, in the past two years, seven (7) out of nine (9) residential fire fatalities in Montgomery County have been the result of careless smoking and discarded smoking materials.

Not long after last year's Maryland legislators considered a similar Fire Safe Cigarette and Firefighter Safety Bill, Mrs. Leona Schwartz, age 83, a resident of the Highland House Apartment in Chevy Chase died from burns and smoke inhalation as result of fire that occurred on November 24, 2006. Careless smoking was to blame for the fire. Her husband survived.

Prior to Mrs. Schwartz two (2) others died in residential fires started by cigarettes, including Mary Louise Harrington, age 78, of Kensington who died on August 27 and on February 26, 2006 Mr. Francis Richard Deleo, age 84, of Rockville died of a result of injuries he sustained on February 9, 2006 from a fire ignited by a discarded cigarette. These fires occurred last year, one prior to and the other shortly after the Maryland House and Senate considered, but did not pass, similar fire safety legislation during 2006.

The fire death situation was very similar in 2005. In April of that year, Silver Spring residents Jack and Lanita Siedel, age 75 and 91 respectively, died in their high-rise apartment by a fire started by a discarded cigarette, just days after Bert Wallace, age 79, sustained life-threatening injuries from a fire started by careless smoking in his high-rise apartment building in Gaithersburg. Mr. Wallace died about a month later. In September 2005, Valich Mossavi-Amin, age 93, was killed by a fire started discarded smoking materials in the living room of his Gaithersburg house.

Last legislative session (2006), 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 and several other states in requiring the use of such cigarettes. Many other states, including our own (Maryland), are considering and are working to pass similar bills this year. Just this week Kentucky and Utah passed similar 'fire-safe' cigarette legislation.

A Reduced-ignition (or fire-safe) cigarettes mandate is Montgomery County Fire Chief Tom Carr's highest legislative priority.

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.