- The Washington Times - Monday, January 3, 2005

The number of fire deaths in the Washington region was up in 2004, with many of the fatalities occurring in December.

Fifteen persons died in residential fires in Prince George’s County last year — more than double the number from the year before. Fifteen persons also perished in the District — three more than in 2003.

Ten died in Fairfax County, compared with seven the year before.

Montgomery County saw the only drop. Four persons died in fires last year, one less than in 2003.

Fire officials say most of the deadly fires started in homes and were preventable.

“It’s people smoking, cooking, using space heaters and decorative candles,” said Capt. Chauncey Bowers, a spokesman for the Prince George’s County Fire/Emergency Medical Services Department.

Last week, D.C. firefighters stepped up fire-safety education efforts after a space heater was blamed for a Dec. 20 fire that killed four family members, including two children. Barely 24 hours after that blaze, a space heater sparked another fire that seriously injured two children.

“These are totally avoidable fires. They can obviously have very tragic results, and we don’t want to have to respond to any more of these this winter,” said Kathryn Friedman, spokeswoman for the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department.

Prince George’s County increased its outreach efforts after a regional summit in March on the increase in fire deaths. Firefighters went door to door in neighborhoods where there were a high number of fires.

“One of two [homes] does not have a working smoke alarm,” Capt. Bowers said.

Firefighters traditionally see more house fires in the colder months from December to February, but Fairfax County officials said last month was especially busy.

“[Last] Monday alone, we had five fires,” said Lt. Raul G. Castillo, spokesman for the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department.

Three of the 10 fire deaths in the county last year occurred in December. December and February were the deadliest months in the District, with four deaths each. Four persons died in fires last month in Prince George’s, the second-highest after last January.

Besides the human cost, Lt. Castillo points to the financial losses.

Last month, 26 fires in Fairfax did $11.5 million in damage.

In December 2003, 11 fires did just $1.8 million in damage.

One reason the figures are so staggering is the increasing number of million-dollar homes, driven by the region’s hot housing market, fire officials said.

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