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Residential fires in Calgary’s suburbs point to importance of Fire Prevention Week

Fire Prevention Week is on now in the city, and the Calgary Fire Department is reminding Calgarians about the importance of prevention against fires, and planning for fires when they occur.

This year’s theme is “Fire Won’t Wait: Plan Your Escape,” which has the fire department asking Calgarians to plan how to escape with themselves, their family members—especially those who are children, older adults, and those with mobility challenges—and pets.

The CFD is also asking Calgarians to ensure that smoke detectors are installed and working in their homes, allowing for precious minutes of life-saving notification for a worst case scenario.

“Truthfully, fire prevention should be an every day top-of-mind topic, because we attend fires every single day in the city of Calgary, and we know that most of those are preventable,” said Carol Henke, Public Information Officer with the Calgary Fire Department.

She said that this year’s topic about creating evacuation plans is something many kids grow up doing in school, but that isn’t something transferred into the home.

“The kids know exactly what to do they exit the school really quickly and orderly,” said Henke.

“In people’s homes, they they tend to forget about having a home escape plan, sitting down with the family, planning it, practicing it twice a week, and knowing where your meeting places are.”

You can do everything right, and still need to take action

Fire Chief Steve Dongworth said that modern houses burn hotter and faster than ever.

“The contents of a home now are very flammable, very combustible, if you compare them with 30, 40, 50 years ago,” he said.

“Lots of things, like lithium batteries being charged all the time—which, if done properly, is completely safe—but we’re starting to see more and more lithium batteries with phones, computers, laptops, tablets, scooters, all these kinds of things.

“Those ignition sources are new for us, and then the construction materials tend to be a bit more flammable or combustible than previous we’ve seen, and also more prone to collapse early on in a fire.”

Chief Dongworth also pointed to the closeness of newly-built homes, and the types of materials being stored outside, as potential sources of risk to residents.

“Particularly on the outer perimeter of the city, as we get bigger and the population is more densely housed and houses are closer together, materials are different and certainly fires can spread from one to the other,” Dongworth said.

“The other thing that’s quite common we’re finding today is fires start outside of homes, and they spread up into the home, and then of course it can spread to adjacent homes as well.”

He asked that Calgarians take care in storing materials like peat in planters that are ignited by carelessly disposed cigarettes, and having fire pits between homes.

Henke said that for those Calgarians living in denser housing, that the risk increase means needing to take extra precautions.

“You could be doing everything right. If you live in an apartment building or one of the new suburbs, and you’re doing everything right, but maybe something goes wrong in your neighbour’s house, that can dramatically affect you,” she said.

Henke said that a fire doubles in size every 30 seconds. With an optimal response time of seven minutes it doubles 14 times. That’s from the start of the fire, not when they get the call, she said.

“It’s growing and growing and and very quickly spreads to neighbouring homes, and if you’re in a multifamily residential building it creates a very smoky environment making it more difficult to escape quickly and safely,” Henke said.

She said that because of that difficulty to navigate under fire conditions, it vitally important to have a practiced plan of escape.

Prevention, attention, and smoke alarms

Henke said that the number one cause of residential fires in Calgary is cooking. Almost all of those fires are preventable.

“The most common indoor accidental fire we attend is cooking left unattended, specifically cooking with oil, because once oil reaches its ignition temperature it ignites and then those flames can very quickly spread to the cabinets and other parts of the kitchen,” she said.

“Because it’s preventable, we want to remind people: Stay in the kitchen when you’re cooking.”

She said that checking your working fire alarms is important. Henke also said that smoke alarms do have a limited lifespan.

“If you’ve lived somewhere for longer than 10 years, and haven’t replaced your smoke alarms, it’s time to do so.”

“Smoke alarms have a 10 year lifespan, and you can get new smoke alarms that have a 10 year lithium battery. So basically when the battery expires, it’s time to replace the unit.”

She said that there should be at least one smoke detector on every floor, and one inside and outside of every sleeping area.

Calgary Fire Department top tips for Fire Prevention Week

More information on Fire Prevention Week can be found online.

The Calgary Fire Department and the City of Calgary has a number of tips to help stay fire safe year round:

  • – Have a plan on how to escape your home during a fire, including creating a making a map, learning escape routes, and practising evacuations twice a year or more.
  • – Make sure everyone in the family knows how to call 9-1-1
  • – Never re-enter a burning building, and let fire fighters know about pets or special belongings
  • – Purchase a home escape ladder
  • – Keep doors to sleeping areas closed at night
  • – Have working smoke alarms, carbon monoxide alarms
  • – Have working fire extinguishers
  • – Maintain any sources of fire or flame, including cooking surfaces, appliances, fireplaces, and fire pits