Accidental fires — whether they are residential, commercial or in the wild — can be heartbreaking, and debilitating depending upon their severity, to families who have lost their homes, their possessions, their dreams and most tragically their loved ones.
It is not a pleasant subject, but it is real and it can affect anyone.
The topic arises because this is Fire Prevention Week across the U.S., a time when firefighting professionals remind their communities of the emotional, material and financial risk of uncontrolled blazes — especially residential fires.
Locally, our hometown is blessed with excellent firefighting teams in the Cleveland Fire Department, Bradley County Fire Rescue and the Charleston Volunteer Fire Department.
Each plays a role.
Each saves lives and property.
Each has helped the others over the years in times of crisis when frightening blazes have been too much for any one unit. One example comes to mind with this year’s late-summer wildfire that swept through 75 acres of property in the Benton Pike area and which forced neighborhood evacuations. The fire came during a two-month drought and was fueled even further by piles of dried and dying debris left from the late-April storms.
The wind-swept blaze spread so rapidly that it required the combined efforts of several fire departments as well as the Tennessee Division of Forestry.
When referencing the tragedy, and the frequency of fires, statistics often tell the story. We use as our information source the National Fire Protection Association.
According to the NFPA, fire departments across the nation in 2010 responded to 1,331,500 fires. As high as this seems, it is actually a decrease from the previous year and the lowest number since 1977. But the devastation left in their aftermath is another story.
Consider these disturbing figures:
— These fires caused an estimated 3,120 civilian fire deaths, a 4 percent increase from a year earlier.
— These fires injured 17,720 civilians, and this also is a 4 percent increase.
— These fires caused more than $11.5 billion in property damage, a significant decrease from the year before.
— These fires involved 482,000 structures, a slight increase from a year ago. Structure fires hit their peak in 1977 when NFPA reported 1,098,000 such blazes.
Overall, NFPA reports improvements in total fire data, but organization leaders tell us “... more must be done to bring the numbers down even further.” One focus will be with residential fires because this is where the majority of fire victims are dying. Ironically, it is in their homes that people feel safest.
NFPA also provides these numbers from 2010:
— A fire department responded to a fire every 24 seconds across the country.
— Some 384,000 fires, or 80 percent of all structure blazes, occurred in residential properties.
— Some 85 percent of all fire deaths occurred in the home.
— Some 215,500 vehicle fires occurred, causing 310 civilian deaths, 1,590 civilian injuries and $1.4 billion in property damage.
— Some 634,000 outside and other fires occurred causing $501 million in property damage.
Outdoor enthusiasts who bask in the comforts of camping, hiking, fishing and hunting are the first to agree that fire is life.
Sadly, fire also has its dark side.
Before the close of Fire Prevention Week, it is the wise homeowner and company safety leader who will take the time to review all anti-fire practices at home, at work or on the road.
Fire can be our friend, but left to its own device it can be our worst of enemies.