The Golden Hammer Staff Reports
Montgomery County, February 23 – Ten days ago, as forecasters predicted a prolonged drop below freezing, Montgomery County’s Firefighters braced for an expected spike in home heating fires. That spike began in earnest as soon as temperatures dropped last Sunday night and snow began to blanket our area.
For the next five days, Montgomery County Firefighters responded to 3,132 calls for service, a 300% increase over the same time frame last year, including one 24 hour period where crews responded to well over 1,000 emergency calls, five times their normal daily workload. In addition to the increased numbers of 911 calls, Firefighters had to contend with freezing weather and poor road conditions, factors they don’t normally face in southeast Texas.
While many of the reported structure fires were quickly extinguished, at least 29 seriously damaged homes or businesses, displacing residents during the worst of the winter storm. A Magnolia resident received minor burns trying to put out a heater fire that had started in his home, while a man in the Willis area was burned when a fire ignited as he was pouring gasoline into a generator. Fortunately, there were no fatal fires reported in Montgomery County during the storm.
Fire and EMS crews also responded to a number of calls last week related to carbon monoxide, a colorless, odorless gas that can be produced by fuel fired equipment such as heating and cooking equipment, as well as generators and similar appliances that burn fuel to operate. While Montgomery County was fortunate to not experience any fatal fires, a number of lives were lost across southeast Texas, both to home heating fires and carbon monoxide poisoning.
While the investigation continues into the cause of many of the home and business fires in our area, a number of them appear to have started as chimney fires or from the use of alternative heating devices, especially those in areas that lost electricity for an extended period of time.
This past weekend saw a return to temperatures more typical of our area, but we still have a few weeks of winter left and the potential for more cold weather. Heating fires can be especially deadly, as they often occur at the worst possible time, breaking out in the middle of the night while our families are asleep.
While space heaters are involved in 1 out of 3 home heating fires, they are responsible for 4 out of every 5 home heating fire deaths. The number one safety recommendation is to first and foremost have working smoke alarms throughout the home, especially in all sleeping areas. Having working smoke alarms dramatically increases your chances of surviving a fire.
According to NFPA’s latest heating equipment statistics, there was an annual average of 48,530 fires home heating fires between 2014 and 2018, resulting in an estimated 500 civilian deaths, 1,350 civilian injuries, and $1.1 billion in direct property damage.