Three fires, two local and one in Atlanta, caused seven people to have to be rescued and the fatality of another. All three of these fires appear to have had the same cause, unattended cooking, though the fire in Atlanta is still under investigation, but it was stated to have started in the kitchen. Unattended cooking continues to be the leading cause of residential fires in America. This is a subject that I have written about many times, but the fires from this cause continue to occur.
What are some of the things that lead to fires caused by unattended cooking? Distractions are one of the things. The sentence is plural because there are many things that can distract a person while cooking. A phone call and a crying baby are two things that can distract a person while cooking. I have reminded you in the past and will do it again now, when you are cooking, carry a large utensil with you if you have to leave the kitchen. This will serve as a reminder that you are cooking. Fatigue is another thing that leads to this cause. People have put something on the stove and fallen asleep, only to wake up to their residence on fire or full of smoke, if they wake up. Forgetfulness is another thing that leads to the cause. There have been some who have put something on the stove to cook, forgot about it, left their residence and returned to find their house burning.
The fires mentioned in the first paragraph each had different circumstances, but most likely had the same cause. My first question in all of these incidents was whether or not the homes were protected by an adequate number of properly operating smoke alarms? The fire that took the life of an elderly man was reported at 12:50 a.m. The fire in Atlanta was reported at 10:30 p.m., while the fire in a Henrico apartment was reported at 2:36 p.m. In Atlanta, the three children were under 13 years of age. In Henrico, there were three children and one adult, with one of the children being under one year old. Smoke alarms are the only means of early warning that gives occupants a chance to escape.
The unique aspect of the Henrico apartment fire was that the kitchen was outfitted with an automatic dry chemical extinguishing system that extinguished the fire and prevented its spread. The smoke was the biggest problem in this incident. Whether residences are outfitted with this type of extinguishing system or they are outfitted with a residential sprinkler system, the fire will either be contained or extinguished, preventing the spread beyond the area of origin. Many have allowed the myths about these systems to prevent them from being installed. I would say that apartments are leading the charge in these systems being installed, during new construction.
I have talked to you in the past about the probability and possibility of a fire occurring in your home or apartment. The possibility is always present, but the probability is usually low. The probability goes up when heat, fuel and oxygen are present. Cooking is one of those times. Left unattended, a fire is very likely to occur. The number one cause is that because fire-cause statistics bears it out. When I left the job in 2010, unattended cooking accounted for 3.7 out of every 10 residential fires. I doubt seriously if the numbers have gone down, but, if anything, have increased. Extinguishing systems and smoke alarms are Band-Aids, where this problem is concerned. Behavioral change is what is necessary, but our society has chosen to accept accidental fires and their outcomes as acceptable, therefore, the more Band-Aids the better. Maybe one day we will get serious about preventing fires from occurring. Until then, firefighters will continue to pull dead or injured people out of burning residences.