Fatal fires spike in Ottawa during pandemic

Ottawa has had more fatal fires in the first four months of 2020 than in any of the past three years, according to the city's fire department.

6 dead in 4 fires, and it's only April

Firefighters battle a fire in Ottawa's Britannia neighbourhood in the early hours of Monday, April 27. A couple and their adult son died after being pulled from the burning home. (Radio-Canada)

Ottawa has had more fatal fires in the first four months of 2020 than in any of the past three years, according to the city's fire department.

2017, 2018 and 2019 each saw three fatal fires. There have already been four fatal fires in 2020, resulting in six deaths.

Three of those fires occurred since mid-March, when physical distancing measures were introduced to slow the spread of COVID-19.

"This is much higher than we've seen in previous years and we're still early in the year," said Ottawa fire Chief Kim Ayotte. "I certainly hope it's not a trend because that would be very concerning."

Ayotte said while having more people inside their homes for longer periods of time adds a slight level of risk, Ottawa has not experienced the same level of increase in total fires that other municipalities have seen.

Toronto's fire Chief Matthew Pegg recently reported a 17 per cent increase in fires in that city during the first few weeks of physical distancing measures when compared to last year, with the leading cause being kitchen fires.

A deadly streak

Ottawa's first fatal fire of the year took place at a low-rise apartment building on Zephyr Avenue near Britannia Park in January. One person died and another was seriously injured.

The next came two months later, when a woman in her 50s died in a fire at a Kanata row house on March 18.

In late March, an 81-year-old woman and her 46-year-old son died in a fire that spread to several units of an apartment building in Barrhaven.

On Monday, a couple and their adult son died after an early morning fire in Britannia.

Ayotte said investigators identified the probable cause of two of the four fatal fires as smoking and one as candles. This week's fire is still under investigation.

Ayotte said people need to take fire safety more seriously and plan ahead.

"If you don't take the steps to prevent these fires — and these fires are preventable — then you have to take the steps to make sure that when something's happened something happens you can respond quickly," said Ayotte.

Across Ontario, there have been 37 fatal fires causing 41 deaths in 2020, according to the Office of the Fire Marshal of Ontario.

Ottawa Fire Services is reminding the public of the following fire prevention tips:

  • Always stay in the kitchen when using the stove.
  • Never cook while consuming alcohol or taking drugs.
  • Always discard cigarette butts in a non-combustible container.
  • Don't smoke in bed or use candles near combustibles.
  • Know and practise an escape plan with two ways out.
  • Make sure smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms are installed and have working batteries.

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