British Columbia

B.C. fire-related fatalities on the rise in 2020, says province

Fire officials are asking people in B.C. to test smoke alarms and take care in the kitchen as 15 people have died in the province so far this year due to fires — three times the number of deaths for the same time period in 2019.

There have been 15 deaths since January, compared to 5 for the same period in 2019

Vancouver firefighters work to put out a fire in the 3500 block of Cambie Street on Feb. 4, 2020. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Fire officials are asking people in B.C. to test smoke alarms and take care in the kitchen as 15 people have died in the province so far this year due to fires — three times the number of deaths for the same time period in 2019.

"My thoughts go out to the families and communities impacted by these tragic deaths," Jennifer Rice, parliamentary secretary for emergency preparedness, said in a release.

Jonathan Gormick, the public information officer for the Vancouver Fire and Rescue Service, said he is not surprised there have been more fatalities. He said the rise can be connected to more people at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"There's probably more distractions around the home as parents try to cope with homeschooling kids or working from home," he said. "They may start to cook a meal and then get distracted by work or schooling or any number of those things and that's when fires occur."

Gormick said in Vancouver, firefighters have dealt with a 17 per cent increase in calls for indoor fires and a 20 per cent increase in outdoor fires over the past eight weeks.

'Life-long injuries'

He said no one has died in relation to the fires in Vancouver, but four people have been seriously injured.

"They are going to suffer life-long injuries from those burns," he said.

Gormick said many of the outdoor fires have been started in piles of garbage or debris that have piled up around some businesses or commercial spaces that are closed. Many of those fires are being investigated as arson, he said.

"Some individuals see it as an opportunity to start a fire, even though it's not their intent to have it spread to the building," he said.

Meanwhile, the province wants people to make sure that homes have working smoke alarms and develop home escape plans. Gormick said research shows a direct link to having working smoke alarms and surviving a house fire.

"Really, they are going to make a life or death difference in a fire for you and your family," he said.

Cities in B.C. such as Vancouver and Victoria offer free programs where fire prevention officers visit homes to assess fire risk, suggest safety improvements and even provide free smoke alarms.

Although on hold due to the pandemic, Vancouver also offers an inexpensive fire extinguisher training program to teach people how to safely store and use a fire extinguisher.

"The number of small fires that could have been kept small and extinguished before they got big would be huge if more people had fire extinguishers and the training on how to use [them]," Gormick said.

He said the program will be offered again once physical distancing restrictions are lifted.

On average, Vancouver has four deaths and 49 injuries related to fires each year. 

Fires in homes can be caused by unattended cooking, burning candles, unextinguished cigarettes or faulty electrical equipment.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?

now