Fifteen Iowans have died in fires so far this year and state officials say that’s a "strikingly high" figure. Jessica Lown of the Iowa Department of Public Safety says by comparison, there were 30 fire fatalities in Iowa in all of 2007. "Our fire statistics in Iowa seem to be climbing for some odd reason this year in 2008," Lown says. "We want people to be aware of that so they take a second and stop and look around and figure out how they can make themselves and their environment a little bit safer so that they can avoid being another one of those statistics."
Over the last three years, the number of fire-related deaths in Iowa has been on the decline. State officials say working smoke detectors are crucial as more than half of all fire deaths in the home occur between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. when people are sleeping. "We think that our home is going to be the safest possible place that we can be…’The doors are locked. I’m safe,’ but they don’t think about all the other factors," she says. "Maybe there’s an electrical issue in the house that could spark a fire or something like that and so the number one thing you can do in those situations is place smoking detectors in and around all sleeping areas."
Lown says it’s possible some of the fires in Iowa so far this year were sparked by someone using a stove or space heater to warm their home during this unusually chilly winter. "We have several fires that are on our list that are considered undetermined and our investigators for a number of reasons just were unable to say, ‘Yes, it was this’ or ‘No, it wasn’t this.’"
Two of the 15 fire-related deaths in Iowa so far this year happened in blazes that were sparked by a smoking cigarette that Lown says was improperly discarded. "Anybody who has a smoker in their home or if they are a smoker, take that statistic into consideration and see what you can do to be a safer smoker," Lown says. "Smoke outside or buy more ashtrays or something like that to keep you and your family safe."
The state’s fire marshal says people often fool themselves into thinking a fire will never happen in their home or that if it did they’d have lots of time to escape.