A panel of experts has reviewed a decade of fires that killed B.C. children and youth, and found that most of the kids who died were under 10 and in homes without working smoke alarms.

The B.C. Coroners Service Child Death Review panel looked at 34 deaths of children in 22 fires between 2005 and 2014, and released its findings in a report today.

"Certainly, there were many tragedies," said Michael Egilson, who chaired the panel.

"Further compounding these tragedies is the recognition that the majority of residential fire deaths are preventable," the report noted.

Fire is responsible for about five per cent of accidental deaths of B.C. children — far behind car accidents and a smaller number than poisonings, drownings, and falls.

Kids playing with fire

The report didn't name specific incidents, but four of the deadly fires were started by children under 10, who had access to lighters or matches.

Young children are the likeliest to set fires inside the home, the report notes, describing a case where one sibling in a shared bedroom was playing with a lighter and paper. The mattress caught on fire and the other child did not escape.

Overall, children in "vulnerable" families were at greater risk, due to:

  • Substandard, overcrowded housing.
  • Less adult supervision.
  • Smoking in the home.

"Only about a third of the residences in the cases that we reviewed had a smoke alarm that was working," said Egilson.

More than half of the children and youth who died had involvement with the Ministry of Children and Families within 12 months of their deaths, the report noted. One died as the result of a fire in a foster home.

'Vulnerable' families

The report recommends provincially standardized fire prevention materials targeting vulnerable families and helping families access and install smoke alarms where needed.

"The majority of residential fire deaths could be prevented through the appropriate disposal of smoking materials, keeping lighters and matches out of the reach of young children and ensuring smoke alarms both work and are in place," Egilson said.

The report also asks the B.C. government to look at whether it would be effective and possible to mandate sprinkler systems in new homes, under the B.C. Building Code.