So far in 2019, Fairfax County firefighters say there have been ten significant fires caused by improperly discarded cigarettes, cigars or other recreational smoking materials. They say that the combined monetary damages for the ten fires is very near the $1M mark. They also say all ten fires were 100 percent preventable.
The latest occurred on Wednesday, April 17, at approximately 9:15 a.m., when firefighters from Fairfax County Fire and Rescue and the City of Fairfax Fire Department were dispatched for a reported house fire in the 12000 block of Washington Street in Fairfax.
Firefighters arrived on the scene of a one-story, single family house with fire showing from the rear of the home. Firefighters quickly worked to extinguish the fire. There was some minor extension into the roof and attic. There were no reported civilian or firefighter injuries.
No one was home at the time of the fire. The fire was discovered by one of the occupants upon returning home who then called 911. There were no working smoke alarms present in the home.
Fire investigators determined that the fire was accidental in nature and started on the exterior of the house. According to fire officials, the cause of the fire was the improper disposal of a cigarette.
Three occupants were displaced because of the fire. Damages as a result of the fire were approximately $18,750, adding to the nearly $1M total of house fires caused by cigarettes and smoking materials in Fairfax County so far this year.
According to the National Fire Prevention Association, during 2012-2016, an estimated national annual average of 18,100 home structure fires started by smoking materials killed an average of 590 people annually, injured 1,130 per year, and caused $476 million in direct property damage per year.
Nationally, one in 20 home structure fires during that same period were started by smoking materials. These same fires caused almost one in four home fire deaths, and one in 10 home fire injuries.
Smoking was also the leading cause of home fire deaths for the five year period of 2012 through 2016.
Nationally overall, one of every 31 home smoking material fires has resulted in at least death.
The leading area of origin for home smoking fires in 2012-2016 was an exterior balcony or open porch. Forty-three percent of the deaths were caused by fires that started in the living room. One-third were caused by fires that began in a bedroom.
Locally, Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department officials urge all residents who smoke to “Sink It or Soak It!” and prevent careless fires by heeding these suggestions:
• Never dispose of cigarette butts in potted planting soil. The soil, when it gets too dry, can become highly flammable.
• Never flick cigarettes into mulch or shrubbery. Dispose of them in a suitable ashtray or bucket with sand. Ensure designated outside smoking areas have an appropriate fireproof container, ashtray or bucket.
• Completely douse butts and ashes with water before throwing them away, as they can smolder and cause a fire.
• Never smoke in bed.
• Provide large, deep ashtrays with a center support for smokers. Check furniture for any dropped ashes before going to bed. Empty ashes into a fireproof container with water and sand.
• Keep smoking materials away from anything that can burn (i.e., mattresses, bedding, upholstered furniture, draperies, etc.).
• Never smoke in a home where oxygen is being used.
• If you smoke, choose fire-safe cigarettes. They are less likely to cause fires.
• To prevent a deadly cigarette fire, you must be alert. You won’t be if you are sleepy, have been drinking, or have taken medicine or other drugs.
• Keep matches and lighters up high, out of children’s sight and reach.