Agent Association Report: Mich. House Fires and Deaths on the Rise

December 12, 2007

The number of reported house fires and fire-related deaths in Michigan increased last year, with many homeowners not maintaining working smoke alarms, according to a report released today by the Michigan Association of Insurance Agents.

Last year, there were 132 reported residential fire deaths in the State of Michigan, and only 18 (or 76 percent) of the homes where a fire death occurred had a smoke alarms present. The 2006 fatalities (the most recent statewide figures available) marked a 13 percent increase from the 115 residential fatalities in 2005. The winter months are often the deadliest for people dying in house fires. During the winter season, house fires kill about 500 in the U.S. and injure about 2,000 people, and cause more than $500 million in property damages ($80 million between the days of December 24-26).

“Fires caused by candles increase fourfold during the winter holidays, and each year Christmas trees are the primary source of some 600 house fires in the U.S.,” said Gary Mitchell, spokesman for the Michigan Association of Insurance Agents. The agents’ group claims house fire fatalities are largely due to people not maintaining their smoke detectors. “We know that smoke alarms save lives, but homeowners continue to be very lax about maintaining them,” said Mitchell.

The month of December is a particularly dangerous time for fires. The agents’ group said Christmas decorative lighting, the use of lighted candles, overloading of extension cords and electrical outlets, and dried and brittle Christmas trees are major contributors to holiday fires. December Christmas tree fires are seven times more likely to occur between the 15-31 of the month.

In 2005, there were 277 candle-related fires, resulting in 31 injuries and more than $3.3 million in property damages. More than half of all house fires take place between the hours of 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., and that children are the likely victims. Children age 9 and under are more than 4 times as likely to die in a house fire than are adults. The elderly and poor are also more vulnerable.

In the state of Michigan, a total of 152 children, age nine and under died in house fires between 2000 and November of 2006. The death toll from house fires generally rises in the winter because the elderly and poor are sometimes forced to use low-cost space heaters and old furnaces to warm homes already plagued by faulty wiring, dried-out wooden frames and other dangerous conditions. “People should practice fire prevention every day of the year,” said Mitchell. “The need to practice fire prevention is especially important during the winter months when house fires occur most often.”

Source: Michigan Association of Insurance Agents

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