Smoking-related fires prompt warning from chief

NANAIMO – Fire chief expresses concern over high number of fires triggered by smoking and cooking.

Fire officials are worried it might just be a matter of time before someone in Nanaimo dies because of a fire started by carelessly discarded cigarettes and other smoking materials.

Since January, Nanaimo Fire Rescue has battled 85 outdoor fires and 25 per cent of those were sparked by cigarettes or pipe ashes, some which were butted out in outdoor planters that smouldered and ignited.

Several fires have been triggered in recent weeks by planters on outside decks and patios that caught fire after smoking materials were discarded.

“That’s not even structure fires,” said Capt. Ennis Mond, fire prevention officer. “We’ve had 85 fires and 25 per cent of those were smoking-related bark mulch fires or something to do with smoking initiated it.”

Craig Richardson, Nanaimo Fire Rescue chief, said he finds the recent trend particularly worrisome because once a deck fire spreads into the siding of a house it will rapidly burn through soffits and into attic spaces. Also, planter fires often flare up late at night or in the early morning when people are asleep.

“Attics usually don’t have smoke alarms, so before people realize their house is on fire it’s at an advanced stage,” Richardson said. “The classic is the smoker goes out at 10 o’clock at night to have a smoke on their deck and butts it out in a bone-dry planter and then goes to bed. The planter catches on fire in the middle of the night and nobody’s awake to see it.”

In some cases people toss cigarettes in ashtrays and leave them without making any attempt to extinguish them.

Richardson also warned people should be equally wary of smouldering barbecues, which have also ignited patio fires.

Drivers tossing cigarette butts out their car windows continue to be the cause of many of Nanaimo’s landscape and brush fires.

Mond said people need to phone the RCMP when they see drivers tossing butts out windows, even if the only penalty in Nanaimo for doing so is a $500 fine for littering.

“The message really is, if people are engaging in smoking, they need to have the proper tools to manage that habit,” said Karen Lindsay, city emergency program coordinator.

People also need to keep aware of what’s going on in their kitchens. Cooking accounted for more than 230 residential fires in 2013 and are the most frequent cause of residential fires in Nanaimo – often because people forget they’ve left something on the stove.

To limit the risk of outdoor landscape and deck fires, Mond suggests keeping ashtrays handy and using them to fully snuff out smoking materials. People can reduce outdoor fire risk by replacing garden bark mulch with non-flammable materials such as rocks or gravel.