Carelessness can cause fires

Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2009

Click here to enlarge this photo
Staff photo illustration by DARWIN WEIGEL
Cigarettes discarded with live burnt ash tips can cause fires. Proper receptacles like this one help, but the butts still pile up and can cause a fire hazard.

On a Monday afternoon in August, Maryland State Fire Marshals learned that a fire at a home in Dunkirk started as a result of the careless disposal of cigarettes in a plastic flower pot on a wooded deck, according to its investigation.

The accidental fire on Cavalier Court caused an estimated $50,000 in damage, but, luckily, no one in the family of four was injured, stated Deputy State Fire Marshal Sander Cohen in his report.

Carelessly discarded cigarettes are the major cause of fatal home fires and property losses from smoking-material fires, totaling hundreds of millions of dollars in damages each year, according to the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA). A more alarming fact stated by the fire administration is that smoking is the number one cause of home fire deaths in the nation. About 1,000 people are killed every year from home fires started by smoking materials. Most fires caused by smoking materials start on beds, furniture or in trash.

Last year the USFA launched a Smoking and Home Fires Campaign at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., to bring about awareness of smoking-material related fires and fire-safe cigarettes. According to the USFA's Web site, "it partnered with the National Fire Protection Association and the Coalition for Fire-Safe Cigarettes to help spread the message about the benefits of fire-safe cigarettes. Fire-safe cigarettes can help drastically reduce the number of home fires caused by smoking materials because they are less likely to ignite if left unattended. Fire safe cigarettes were designed to extinguish quickly if ignored, with the intention of preventing unintended fires."

In Maryland, legislation requiring fire-safe cigarettes, which will extinguish themselves if they are not being inhaled, became effective July 1, 2008.

According to Maryland Deputy State Fire Marshal Joe Zurolo, "As of right now, we still have had fires that have been caused by smoking related causes" and carelessly discarded cigarettes. It could be from establishments still selling old ones because they had a grace period or from people bringing in cigarettes from states such as Virginia that have not yet enacted a fire-safe cigarettes law, he said.

Most fire investigators are being cautious when determining the cause of fires now by discarded smoking materials, Zurolo said.

"You can't just jump the gun now and say it's careless smoking."

For years it has been the leading cause of home fires, he said.

Fire safe cigarettes are like a working smoke alarm or sprinkler systems; "it's your first line of defense," Zurolo said.

"We're trying to provide Maryland residents with the safest state we can be."

Tips for safety

U.S. Fire Administration gives some safety tips to prevent smoking related home fires.

Make sure smokers extinguish cigarettes in large, deep ashtrays;

Fill ashtrays with water before putting them in the trash can;

Place ashtrays on something sturdy and hard to ignite like a table ;

Check under sofas and chair cushions for cigarette butts after parties.