UPDATE: Careless smoking fires continue in Calgary

Inglewood condo fire confirmed as caused by improper disposal of smoking materials

The Calgary Fire Department urges all Calgarians to properly dispose of their smoking materials as fire crews and investigators continue to see preventable and very dangerous residential fires occur.

“We’ve seen three careless disposal fires in the last five days,” said Travis Thiessen, Acting Fire Investigation Coordinator, Calgary Fire Department. “This has been an unusual and extreme year for smoking-related fires in Calgary.”

Of the 53 building fires in May and June where the cause was determined, 17 were related to smoking, or 35 per cent.

And of the 25 most serious building fires during May and June, 13 of these fires have been found to have been caused by, or suspected cause, careless disposal, underlining the severity of accidental fires related to smoking materials.

“Fires that start outside of a building – such as on a back deck where smoking materials might be improperly disposed in a planter – are potentially much more dangerous for the occupants as indoor smoke alarms may not detect the outdoor fire until it is well underway,” said Thiessen.

Careless disposal drives busiest month in the last five years

As reported by Calgary Fire on June 25, smoking-related fires have contributed to overall greater incidence of residential fires in Calgary. Updated trends include:

  • May 2018 was the busiest month in the last five years for building and structure fires in Calgary, with 46 building fires in May and 28 in June 2018.

  • May 2018 has now posted the second highest dollar in the past five years at $10.9 million in property losses. With several investigations still underway, this total is expected to increase. June 2018 total loss currently stands at $6.9 million, also expected to increase.

  • Smoking materials continue to be the leading cause of all outdoor fires in Calgary and account for about 48 per cent of outside fires where source of ignition could be determined.

“Residents who accidently start fires in an outdoor flower pot often report they thought it was just dirt. It’s not: these are flammable materials that can smolder for hours then ignite the rest of your deck and house.”

Inglewood condo fire cause determined

This trend includes a rare four-alarm fire that involved a 64-unit condo building in Inglewood in May 2018, which displaced more than 200 people and required 25 fire apparatus to contain and extinguish.

“We have now officially determined that the cause of the Inglewood condo fire was careless disposal of smoking materials in an outdoor planter on a patio,” said Thiessen of one of Calgary’s largest residential fires in recent memory.

As part of its Inglewood investigation, the Calgary Fire Department spoke with witnesses who reported a fire emerging from a container between an outdoor deck window and door. Residents were able to evacuate just as the fire broke through the windows and filled the apartment with smoke and flames.

It was determined that a cigarette was improperly disposed on a deck in the Inglewood complex around 10:30 PM on May 29th, which then smoldered for a short time before breaking into open flame. Fire crews were dispatched to the scene at 1:36 AM early the next morning. Firefighters quickly got the fire under control after calling for additional resources. No injuries were reported and evacuees were taken to the Max Bell arena for shelter.

“We commend residents for alerting each other as it was a narrow escape for some of them,” said Thiessen. “However, we need to remind all Calgarians to never dispose of smoking materials in planters or plastic containers, and to use caution when using outdoor open flames, including barbeques and backyard fire pits.”

Fire prevention safety tips

  • Never put out cigarettes or smoking materials in plant pots, peat moss, your lawn or garden. Use a deep, wide, sturdy metal container with a lid, 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, 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.

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