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Structure fires on the rise.

Byline: Kevin T. Baldwin

Area fire chiefs have seen overall increases in the number of structural fires caused by careless disposal of ashes and other causal factors.

According to Northboro Fire Chief David Durgin, although residents may be using alternative forms of heating such as wood stoves or space heaters, his department has not seen them as a contributing factor in the number of fires in town.

"We have fortunately seen a downward trend of alternative and wood fired heater incidents," Durgin said. "Structure fires however are up over last year both here in Northboro and across the Commonwealth."

Durgin said the fire service as a whole has seen an increase this year in serious structure fires.

In a report by the Massachusetts Department of Fire Services, statewide statistics on structural fires in Massachusetts show structural fires up by 4 percent from 2005 to 2006. The Shrewsbury Fire Department report for 2006 showed 135 total fires, non-arson related: 78 structural fires, 18 vehicle fires and 39 fires listed as "Other." There was one death caused by fire, and total overall costs were listed as $1,267,410 in damage.

There were also nine total arson-related fires: Three vehicle fires and six fires listed as "Other." There were no deaths, but the total cost in damages was not listed in the report.

"Every winter, the source of most fires in the home are wood burning-related, be it back porches, garages, or chimney fires," said Shrewsbury Fire Chief Gerald LaFlamme. "We usually suffer six fires a year that are wood-related. Fireplace use and improper removal and disposal of ashes are far more prevalent (than space heater fires)."

According to LaFlamme, residents should place ashes from a fireplace into a metal container then take the container out away from the house and kept away from any other wood or other flammable materials.

"Keeping ashes in a metal container, off the back porch and away from any wood will save many a house," LaFlamme said.

Referring to the Massachusetts Fire Incident Reporting System 2006, Durgin said there are a number of reasons a non-arson- related structural fire might occur which is not related to space heaters or other alternative forms of heat:

Electrical - bad wiring, overheated wiring, electrical draw exceeds available outlet capacity; lightning strikes; candles; cooking - cooking appliances, microwave, toaster ovens, etc. (58 percent of residential fires started in the kitchen); careless disposal of smoking materials/smoking (leading cause of fire deaths in 2006); juvenile fire setting - children playing with matches/lighters; improper storage or use of flammable liquids/materials; and motor vehicles adjacent to or in the structure's garage.

"Gas fired and kerosene heating units are outlawed in Massachusetts in occupied dwellings of habitation," Durgin said.

Durgin said no matter what time of year, people need to be careful of how they dispose of ashes from fireplaces.

"We have seen the ash disposal problem in the past, but not on a large scale," Durgin said. "We have more of problem with ash disposal when there is no snow cover causing outside/brushfires.

But LaFlamme said the wood fires his department has experienced have usually been the result of neglected or improperly disposed of ashes from people's fireplaces, which could re-ignite if not properly extinguished.
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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Mar 6, 2008
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