In the wake of the tragic fire that left a Sicamous father and his two young sons dead, the BC Coroners Service and the Office of the Fire Commissioner are urging owners of mobile homes and operators of mobile home parks to take extra care to prevent fires.
The Sicamous tragedy was not the only fatal fire over the New Year’s weekend to contribute to the warning. From Dec. 29 to Jan. 2, seven British Columbians lost their lives in five separate fires. Three of those fires and five of the deaths occurred in mobile homes or travel trailers being used as living accommodation. The causes of the fires have not yet been determined.
The government news release states that while mobile homes provide a source of housing for many British Columbians, studies show that fires in such housing, especially older units, tend to be more devastating than those in other forms of residence. A U.S. study found that the death rate in mobile home fires is substantially higher than in other housing.
The fire commissioner’s office notes that escape from mobile home fires can be more difficult for several reasons:
• the space is smaller, which puts the occupant closer to the fire;
• they do not ventilate as readily as other homes, so chances of survival decrease;
• a second exit is not always accessible; and
• they are sometimes made of more flammable material.
The government lists steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of all home fires.
• Have furnaces inspected at least once a year, and clean the blower and filters often to prevent overheating. Keep the furnace area clear of clutter.
• Ensure electrical wiring and appliances are in good working order. Watch out for any signs of wiring trouble, including flickering lights for no apparent reason; warm, inoperable, strange-smelling or discoloured switch plates or outlets; sparking or electrical arcing; or a blown fuse or tripped circuit breaker. Never run extension cords under rugs.
• Avoid the use of space heaters if at all possible. If it is essential to use one, use a CSA-approved model and ensure it is well away from drapes, bedding, clothing or other flammable materials.
• It is the law for all homes to be equipped with smoke detectors and fire extinguishers are highly recommended.
• If a natural gas or liquid propane (LP) line runs into the mobile home, know where the shutoff valve is and how to operate it. Never keep LP tanks inside the home or in confined spaces under the home, and never use a gas stove to heat or dry the home.
• Take special precautions with smoking materials. Ensure that all cigarettes and matches are fully extinguished and discarded well away from any flammable materials. Never smoke in bed.
• Consideration should be given to replacing wood-based combustible wall coverings with gypsum board products, which slow down the progression of fire.
• Recognize that impairment by alcohol or drugs can reduce one’s ability to respond quickly to a fire and get out in time.
Developing and practising home evacuation plans can help people prepare for an emergency. Most home fires occur at night, when people are the least prepared.