May 2018 sets five-year record for number of building fires in Calgary

Chief Dongworth: careless disposal of smoking materials is leading cause

On Monday, June 25, Fire Chief Steve Dongworth outlined a disturbing trend in building and structure fires in recent weeks, which included Calgary’s first fire-related fatality of 2018, at least one arson – as well as one of the largest residential fires in recent memory.

“May 2018 was the busiest month in the last five years for building and structure fires in Calgary, with 46 building fires alone in May and nearly 20 so far in June,” said Dongworth.

Dongworth described a rash of fires that included a rare four-alarm blaze that tore through a 64-unit condo building in Inglewood on May 30, which displaced more than 200 people and required 25 fire apparatus to contain and extinguish.

“We now regrettably have one fatality from these fires,” said Dongworth of the house fire in Tuxedo over the weekend. “Each and every one of the serious fires amongst these have resulted in families, and sometimes multiple families, losing their homes, property, possessions and belongings – as well as a number of pets. Many of these belongings are irreplaceable -- and in some cases homes and property were not insured.”

Fire investigators are still completing their work, however evidence to date indicates the cause of the four-alarm Inglewood fire is careless disposal of smoking materials in an outdoor planter on a patio, said Dongworth.

“Based on the origin and cause examination and witness interviews, it appears as though one of our most significant fires in recent years occurred because of a carelessly disposed cigarette,” said Calgary’s fire chief.

“Improper disposal of smoking material has become a serious safety issue in our city.”

Earlier in May, the Calgary Fire Department reminded Calgarians that improper disposal of smoking materials such as tobacco products was the leading cause of outdoor fires in Calgary -- and that using a flower planter, peat moss, your lawn or garden to dispose of smoking materials is a dangerous choice.

“Unfortunately, some of our citizens have not heard this message,” said Dongworth, “as the majority of serious fires in Calgary recently have been due to careless disposal of smoking materials.”

Of 17 fire investigations of the most serious building fires during May and June 2018, said Dongworth, 10 of these fires have been found to have been caused by, or suspected cause, careless disposal of smoking materials.

Not only are has Calgary seen an increase in the number of fires, said Dongworth, but the severity and intensity of the fires have increased, with more two-alarm fires and above than what's typical.

May 2018 was the third-busiest month for all fire calls since June 2015, with 169 reported fires of all kinds in a single month. May 2018 also posted the third highest dollar in the past five years at $8.5 million in property losses. With several investigations still underway, this total is expected to increase.

“Given that the majority of our most recent building fires were likely preventable, we need Calgarians to responsibly dispose of all smoking materials and consider the safety of their families, their neighbours and the first responders who attend these calls.”

This summer, the Calgary Fire Department asks all Calgarians to use caution when using outdoor open flames, including barbeques and backyard fire pits and when disposing of smoking materials.

  • Never put out cigarettes or smoking materials in plant pots, peat moss, your lawn or garden.

    • Use a deep, wide, sturdy metal container filled part way with sand or water that should be emptied regularly.

    • Ensure all butts and ash are out by dousing with water prior to putting in the trash.
  • Do not store propane tanks, firewood or yard waste next to your house.
  • Check your smoke alarms monthly, change them every 10 years and always plan two ways out.

  • Always use a spark guard on your outdoor fire pit, and observe City bylaws on outdoor fires:

  • Immediately call 9-1-1 to report a fire.

  • Learn more about fire prevention and home safety at