Edmonton

Tossed cigarettes result in 24 house fires so far this year

Two recent fires that caused major damage to residential buildings are among 24 fires this year sparked by improperly discarded smoking materials, Edmonton Fire Rescue Services says.

Cost of damages from smoking-related fires so far this year estimated at more than $850,000

A fire at this duplex in Ritchie on June 23 was caused by smoking materials discarded on a wooden deck, Edmonton Fire Rescue Services says. The fire caused $400,000 worth of damage. (John Shypitka/CBC)

Two recent fires that caused major damage to residential buildings are among 24 fires this year sparked by improperly discarded smoking materials, Edmonton Fire Rescue Services says.

A fire that displaced residents at an apartment building in west Edmonton on June 25 was caused by smoking materials discarded on the deck of a third-floor suite. That fire resulted in $110,000 worth of damage. 

On June 23, a fire that started on the wooden deck of a Ritchie duplex was also caused by smoking materials. It resulted in $400,000 worth of damage.

Since 2010, improperly discarded smoking materials have led to fires that caused more than $53 million in damages, EFRS said in a media release.

Last year, 75 fires were caused by improperly discarded smoking materials, said Deputy Fire Chief Russell Croome.

The total damage estimate for the 24 fires this year related to smoking materials is more than $850,000.

It's "peak season" for cigarette-related fires, Croome said, and fires caused by smokers are 100 per cent preventable.

One recent fire started in an ashtray that was overfilled, he said.

"They had good intent to dispose of it properly, they just didn't maintain it," Croome said.

"They do need to be emptied out and when you do discard your cigarettes and materials used to light it, you need to soak it before you dispose of it so it doesn't just move the problem somewhere else."

In May, improperly disposed smoking materials caused a fire that damaged a unit in this multi-housing complex at 81st Street and 8th Avenue SW. (Gavin Thomas/CBC)

Butts can smoulder for days

Cigarettes and other smoking materials can smoulder for days before igniting a fire.

Embers can remain hot for hours before a gust of wind picks up and turns that glow into a blaze, Croome said.

In the past two years, cigarettes disposed of in planters and diaper pails or tossed off balconies have led to massive fires in condo and apartment buildings.

In 2015, the Alberta Fire Chiefs Association called for fines and even charges against those who start fires by carelessly disposing cigarettes.

Part of the problem is that many people think they can safely butt out in a plant or flower pot, fire chiefs' association president Peter Krich told CBC in July 2015.

Both the plants themselves and the chemicals in the soil can easily catch fire and spread to the rest of the building.

"A lot of these planters are in a wooden container or a plastic pot. Eventually, those ignite and then it ignites whatever it's close to," he said.

A fire started by smoking materials discarded in a diaper pail on the balcony of a Clareview condo in May 2015 was described as "dynamite" by a deputy fire chief after about 60 firefighters worked three hours to get the blaze under control. The fire resulted in $16.3 million in damages.

Fire chief Ken Block called the incident "completely preventable."

If you're in a multi-family dwelling, you're putting everyone in the building at risk, putting the firefighters at risk.- Russel Croome, Edmonton Fire Rescue Services

EFRS is reminding Edmontonians to dispose of smoking materials properly — and to never butt them out in planters.

Smoking materials should be extinguished in deep, non-flammable ashtrays, and matches and cigarette butts in ashtrays should be wet before being placed in the garbage.

Cigarettes and smoking materials should never be dropped on the ground, and lighters, matches and cigarettes should be kept away from children.

"We want to remind people, they need to take care. If you're going to smoke, and you're smoking outside, please make sure you extinguish the cigarette appropriately," Croome said.

"It's not just your home. If you're in a multi-family dwelling, you're putting everyone in the building at risk, putting the firefighters at risk."

A fire at a northeast Edmonton condo in 2015 was caused by smoking materials that weren't properly disposed. (CBC)

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