Ris­ing death toll sounds fire alarm

Home safety fears

Sunday Herald Sun - - News - KIERAN ROONEY

DEATHS and prop­erty dam­age from pre­ventable house fires have risen in the space of a year, ac­cord­ing to new data.

Fig­ures from the Metropoli­tan Fire Brigade and Coun­try Fire Au­thor­ity show there were 3098 avoid­able fires recorded in homes across Vic­to­ria in 2016, re­spon­si­ble for 14 fa­tal­i­ties and $88.6 mil­lion in prop­erty dam­age.

While the to­tal num­ber of fires dropped last year, more lives were lost than in 2015, when nine fa­tal­i­ties and $74.7 mil­lion in dam­age were recorded.

The sta­tis­tics are an all-too­real re­minder for Stephen Rear­don, a CFA vol­un­teer whose home at Spargo Creek burnt to the ground in April.

“It was an elec­tric fault, ap­par­ently in a lead un­der the bed,” he said.

“The speed of it was the most dis­con­cert­ing. I could smell it be­fore the fire alarm went off.

“I raced through the house, saw the bed­side table and side of the bed were on fire, grabbed the fire ex­tin­guisher and, as I opened the door again, it flashed straight over my head.

“There was noth­ing stupid about it (the cause of the blaze) so it just shows it could hap­pen to any­one and how ready you have to be no mat­ter who you are.”

Mr Rear­don said the lo­cal com­mu­nity had ral­lied around his fam­ily in the af­ter­math of the fire.

“What’s given us the most grief is that we didn’t have copies of any­thing in terms of iden­ti­fi­ca­tion and records out­side of the house,” he said. “We didn’t even have a phone or num- bers to call our chil­dren and let them know we were safe.”

Data also shows that more than 40 per cent of house fires in Vic­to­ria hap­pen in the kitchen, with CFA chief of­fi­cer Steve War­ring­ton warn­ing that unat­tended cook­ing was a haz­ard all year round.

He said it was a myth that the ma­jor­ity of fires oc­curred in sum­mer.

“As the weather cools down, peo­ple bring out their heaters, turn on their elec­tric blan­kets and stoke up their wood fires,” he said.

“This means we see a spike in heat­ing-re­lated fires.”

MFB act­ing chief of­fi­cer Paul Stacchino said more needed to be done to re­duce fire risks.

“There are still more than 3000 fires in Vic­to­ria each year which are mostly avoid­able.

“Last year 14 peo­ple died in pre­ventable house fires in our state. That’s 14 griev­ing fam­i­lies liv­ing with­out their loved ones.

“This isn’t a num­ber our com­mu­nity should ac­cept.”

Stephen Rear­don, a CFA vol­un­teer, is one of the thou­sands of fire vic­tims re­ported in 2016 and is thank­ful to have made it out safely. Pic­ture: JAY TOWN

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