The number of fire deaths across the state increased by 42 percent last year over 2007, according to the Ohio fire marshal’s office.
Officials have no clear explanation for the increase to 183 fire deaths in 2008 from 129 in 2007, said Deputy Fire Marshal Donald Cooper.
Use of more flame-resistant construction materials and sprinkler systems and improved medical care have contributed to fewer fire deaths across the country in recent decades.
Eighty percent of the Ohio homes involved in fatal fires last year did not have smoke detectors, and Cooper said the biggest priority for fire officials this year is increasing use of the devices.
“This is our biggest priority to improve,” Cooper said. “Fire doesn’t choose its victims.”
He said most fires are in kitchens or rooms where people smoke.
Cleveland bucked the state trend, with 10 fire deaths in 2008, tying its record low from the previous year. The number is down from 25 deaths in 2006. Drops also have been seen in other cities, such as Milwaukee, New York and Chicago.
Cleveland hasn’t had a death toll of less than 10 in modern years.
“That’s a goal we’d like to reach,” said Fire Department spokesman Larry Gray. “We want to see that someday.”
Winter is the deadliest season for fires, when people use space heaters and overload electrical circuits, Gray said. Across the state, 28 people have died in fires since Thanksgiving.
City officials attributed the decrease in Cleveland fire deaths to fire safety education, including efforts to replace or install smoke detectors and programs targeting children. The city had its first fire death of the year last week, when an unidentified man was found in a burning home. Cause is unknown.
Cleveland had its highest number of fire deaths — 176 — in 1944, when 131 people died after the explosion of an East Ohio Gas Co. plant.
In 1929, 173 people died in fires, including 123 who died when a a construction accident started a fire at the Cleveland Clinic, setting X-ray films ablaze and releasing poison gas.
Information from: The Plain Dealer, http://www.cleveland.com
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