Edmonton

Fire chiefs say careless smokers should be punished for starting fires

People who start fires by carelessly disposing of their cigarettes should face financial penalties — perhaps even charges — according to the association that represents fire chiefs in Alberta.

Edmonton fire chief calls for ash trays to be installed in condos and apartments

Peter Krich, the president of the Alberta Fire Chiefs Association, says too many blazes are started by careless cigarette disposal. (Emily Fitzpatrick/CBC)

People who start fires by carelessly disposing of their cigarettes should face financial penalties — perhaps even charges — according to the association that represents fire chiefs in Alberta.

The list of devastating fires this year alone caused by careless smokers is long: a May condo in north Edmonton that left 155 people homeless, a blaze in Calgary that destroyed four homes, and a fire just this week that destroyed a house in Edmonton.

All of them started by a cigarette. And all of them preventable, according to the president of the Alberta Fire Chiefs Association.

"People are just so careless on the use of their cigarettes," said Peter Krich.

Part of the problem, Krich said, is that many people think they can safely butt out in a plant or flower pot. However, he said both the plants themselves and many chemicals used to care for them can easily catch fire, which spreads 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.

"It can spread pretty quickly as we've seen in previous fires."

The association has previously said that hundreds of fires each year are traced back to cigarettes.

While these fires are considered accidental, Krich said it is time to consider holding responsible the smokers who are careless when they butt out.

"You're starting a fire and not realizing what you're doing is compromising a lot of people," he said.

"Rightfully, yes there should be some kind of penalty, fee or charge (for) what you have done."

It's an issue that has Edmonton's fire chief nearly speechless.

"I don't have a good response," said Ken Block.

"It amazes me why we can't collectively get our head around the risk associated with this activity."

Earlier this summer, Block launched an educational program, Butt Out, that he hopes will make people more careful about where they put out their cigarettes. He's also pushing to have apartments and condos install commercial ash trays to give people a safe place to butt out.

The hope is that will start to curb the problem. Kirch worries that until people start thinking about where they put their cigarettes, more homes — and people — will be in danger.

"You're not just losing your property or someone else's property, you risk losing firefighters' lives," he said.

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