More people died in fires in West Virginia last fiscal year than ever before and this year is already off to a bad start.
A record 79 people died in fires between July 1, 2006, and June 30, assistant State Fire Marshal Reed Cook said Wednesday. That total includes nine people who died in an apartment building fire in Huntington, four who died in a propane gas explosion at a convenience store in Ghent and five family members who died in a Falling Waters mobile home fire sparked by a kerosene heater.
A Braxton County couple killed Tuesday night in a house fire brought July’s total number of fire-related deaths to six, which Cook said is an unusually high number for a summer month.
Most house fires – like the December fire in Falling Waters – occur during the colder months when people are using alternative heat sources, which can spark fires either directly or by causing electrical overloads.
In July 2006, the state recorded just one fire-related death, Cook said, followed by three last August.
Normally the state averages between 30 and 45 fire-related deaths per year. Cook couldn’t remember when the previous annual record of 78 deaths was set but said it’s been more than a decade.
Besides the three multiple-fatal fires last fiscal year, which were all ruled either accidental or undetermined, Cook said eight others were deliberately set. Those include a couple that were murder-suicides. In all, 11 people were killed by arson in fiscal year 2007, he said.
The cause of Tuesday night’s fire in Strange Creek hasn’t yet been determined but neighbors said they heard an explosion before seeing the smoke and flames.
The victims’ names haven’t been released by fire officials, but family members identified them as the residents of the home, Victor and Irene Lambert, both 88.
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