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String of fires prompt safety reminders
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Photo courtesy of the CITY OF CLEARWATER
Firefighters got a Clearwater duplex fire under control in about an hour Dec. 28. There were two explosions thought to have been caused by old oxygen tanks in the duplex.
CLEARWATER – There were at least seven residential fires in six days around Pinellas County from Dec. 24 to Dec. 29.

Clearwater Public Safety Information Officer Elizabeth Watts said this time of year poses a higher risk for residential fires, although Clearwater was right on track with the monthly fire average for December.

Although there were four Clearwater fires within six days, the average number of fires in December is six, and through Dec. 29 there had only been seven fires, Watts said. In 2008 there were six fires in December, and in 2007 there were five fires, she added.

The most common causes of fires are unattended cooking, overloaded electrical circuits and human error of discarding smoking products. Also, cooler weather and the holidays pose a greater risk of house fires, including unattended candles, space heaters, extra risk for overloaded electrical circuits or old Christmas lights, and more people cooking for guests, although Watts said it wasn’t clear if the recent fires were due to any of these causes.

To help avoid these types of fires, Watts suggests never leaving candles unattended, only use a quality UL listed power strip or surge protector to plug in holiday lighting, and replace any lights with broken or frayed wiring. Lights should not be warm to the touch, she said.

Other safety tips include having the proper use and correct type and sizing of temporary wiring; the proper handling and storage of combustibles; close supervision of open flames and heating devices; proper handling and disposal of smoking products; proper maintenance of appliance heating and venting systems; and having a family fire plan for escape in the event of a fire, Watts said.

It is imperative to have working smoke detectors in one’s home, which can make the difference between life or death, Watts said. Most smoke alarms fail because of missing, disconnected or dead batteries. She said it is important that people follow these tips to ensure their safety:

• Test smoke alarms monthly and replace batteries once a year or when you hear a low-battery alarm chirp.

• Have more than one smoke alarm in your home. There should be smoke detectors in every level of one’s home, outside every sleeping area and inside each bedroom.

• Interconnect smoke alarms so all will sound if even one of them detect smoke.

• Develop and practice a home escape plan that includes at least two escape routes from the home.

Animals can be more tricky in the instance of a fire, Watts said.

“Animals can’t open doors,” Watts said. “Their first instinct is to get away from danger and they often run and hide during a fire. If your pet did not make it out of the home with you, tell a firefighter your pet is still inside so they can try to locate it and bring it to safety. Our fire units are equipped with animal oxygen masks similar to those that are used to revive people. In the Christmas Eve fire, firefighters located an unconscious dog in a search of the building, pulled it to safety and used a mask to resuscitate the dog. They saved its life.”

In the case of a fire, people should get out immediately and call 911, Watts said, and meet at a predetermined location. No one should ever re-enter the building, she said.

The following is a re-cap of some of the recent fires in Pinellas:

• Dec. 29, 1:15 a.m. – An 11-year-old girl and her 15-year-old boyfriend were each charged with attempted murder and arson resulting in serious injury after allegedly pouring gasoline on the 11 year old’s mother’s bed and floor then lighting it on fire, according to a Clearwater police report. The fire was at 1580 Huntington Lane in Clearwater. The victim, Nancy Broadhead, was taken to Morton Plant Hospital and Tampa General Hospital for serious burns and smoke inhalation but was listed in stable condition.

• Dec. 28, 11:45 a.m. – A Clearwater duplex displaced three people after a dryer caught fire and old oxygen tanks exploded at 1104 Grove St. Resident Arlene Fischer was home at the time and exited safely with her two dogs. The other residents, Sheryl Salmon and her 12-year-old son, were not home at the time and were missing their cat.

• Dec. 28, 5:25 a.m. – Arson units were investigating a Palm Harbor apartment fire at Harbor Club Downs, 455 Alt. U.S. 19. Firefighters managed to keep the fire contained to one building with 18 units, and no injuries were reported.

• Dec. 27, 7:06 a.m. – There were no injuries in a Dunedin apartment fire at 1125 Broadway. A sheriff’s deputy noticed the fire on his way home from work and called 911 before ensuring residents’ safety. No injuries were reported.

• Dec. 26, 1:32 a.m. – Firefighters saved one dog and one cat from a house fire at 2112 Allard Drive in Clearwater. All residents were out of the house when firefighters arrived, and firefighters found two pets and treated them with oxygen. A second cat was not found.

• Dec. 25, 9:21 p.m. – A woman died at 3 a.m. Dec. 27 after being caught in a mobile home fire on Christmas Day at 1799 Seminole Blvd., Lot 26, Largo. A male resident apparently awoke to smoke and was unable to help the female victim, Diane Cole, 54, out of the home, so he got help from a neighbor. The neighbor helped Cole out of the home. Cole was taken to Tampa General Hospital and was thought to have non-life-threatening injuries but later died.

• Dec. 24, 8:23 p.m. – Firefighters responded to a house fire at 2998 Lake Vista Drive in Clearwater and found heavy fire coming from the west side of the house. They found an unconscious, crated dog inside the home and brought it outside and revived it using a pet oxygen mask. There were no other injuries. Firefighters said the fire started in the carport and spread to the house.
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