Spike in Thunder Bay house fires concerns deputy chief

The latest of 13 house fires since the beginning of January destroyed the home of an Afghanistan war veteran.
An Afghanistan war veteran lost virtually everything he owns in a recent fire at his Fitzgerald Street home in Thunder Bay. (Nicole Ireland/CBC)

The deputy chief of Thunder Bay Fire Rescue says he's concerned about the high number of house fires this year.

Since the beginning of January, there have already been 13 fires. 

“[There’s been] a bit of an unfortunate start here,” Greg Hankkio said. “We hope the trend will change."

The latest fire in the city destroyed the home of an Afghanistan war veteran.

Thunder Bay Fire Rescue battled a house fire on Fitzgerald Street on Monday afternoon. (Adam Burns/CBC)

"Everything's gone,” said Jesse Veltri, as he stood outside the charred remains of his house on Fitzgerald Street on Tuesday afternoon. "No Afghanistan medals, none of my military gear. It's all gone."

The Monday fire caused so much destruction fire officials said they may never know the cause.

The war veteran returned to secure the property and see if any valued possessions were left.  Only his championship jiu-jitsu medal survived the blaze. 

Winter risks

Cooking, candles and smoking materials are all common causes of fire year-round, Hankkio said.

But there are additional risks in the winter..

"We do experience more chimney fires," Hankkio said. "We recommend that people have their chimneys cleaned every year and they get ... their chimneys inspected regularly."

Thunder Bay deputy fire chief Greg Hankkio says the risk for fires is a bit higher in winter. (Nicole Ireland/CBC)

Vacant and abandoned buildings are also a concern, he noted. People who are homeless sometimes seek shelter in abandoned buildings and fires can start when they try to keep warm or cook inside the building.

Hankkio said Fire and Rescue works with the city bylaw department to track where abandoned buildings are and make sure they're secure.

Buildings under renovation or construction can also be at risk during a fire because, if drywall is removed it limits fire barriers and the fire can spread rapidly, he added.

Hankkio said fire education is the "first line of defence" in prevention. He said the fire department is actively involved in school and community-based programs.

“We're hoping that ... if we can continue to educate the young people in our community and populations that may possibly not have received a whole bunch of fire education that … we can turn the numbers down … as far as the number of preventable fires that we have,” he said.

In addition to prevention, Hankkio said the most important message to the public is that smoke detectors save lives.

There were a total of 68 residential fires in 2013. So far, in 2014, there have been 10 residential fires in January and three residential fires in the first few days of February.

None of them were fatal. 

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