Michigan Ranks in Top 10 in Deadly Fires

A new federal report shows a disturbing trend: a rise in fire-related deaths.

The report comes from FEMA and the U.S. Fire Administration. And along with the latest data from Michigan, it shows the common threads most often connected to fire fatalities.

Lt. Kyle Clute with the Grand Traverse Metro Fire Department says, “The state of Michigan unfortunately does rank usually in the top 10 across the country for home fire deaths.”

It’s not a top 10 list we want to be on, but it’s one firefighters can’t ignore.

Meredith Hawes is a Regional Education Specialist with the National Fire Protection Association.

She says, “We do see a spike in fires in the cold season. So from January through March we see an uptick.”

Over the holidays, that’s largely due to candles and Christmas decorations.

But after that, Hawes says, “We also see winter storms that contribute. People using generators or candles in their home, and heating alternatives. So if you’re using your fireplace or wood stove or space heater, really make sure you have things in good working condition and a qualified person to inspect those.”

Clute says, “We typically see fires in the bedroom, the living room, and the kitchen. That varies based on time of day obviously from what time you’re active.”

Most fatalities happen overnight between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m.

And Hawes adds, “Four out of five fire deaths are in homes. The place you’re supposed to feel the safest.”

Most of the deadly fires happen in the overnight hours.

“Most of our home fire fatalities are the result of careless use of smoking materials,” Clute said.

It may come as no surprise–cigarettes are the number one cause of smoking fatalities. Firefighters know not everyone will quit smoking, but making changes may help.

“We want you to use nice sturdy ashtrays, make sure your cigarettes are out designate one spot where you smoke so you don’t have the materials in all those other places,” Clute says.

And leaving something on the stove is the second-ranked cause of deadly fires.

Hawes says, “We’re all guilty of it at some point, so really keeping track of not walking away from something on the stove top… stay in the room when you’re broiling, grilling, or frying foods.”

Clute echoes that sentiment.

“We want to make sure you’re standing by the stove, we don’t want you to leave your pan. We want to make sure you stay with what you’re cooking and don’t forget about it,” he says.

According to the FEMA study, for the years 2008-2017, the most recent years of federal data available, Michigan consistently ranks between tenth and fifteenth in the nation for fire-related deaths, with an average of roughly 100 deaths per year. That’s about 10 deaths per one million residents.

But while your risk of dying in a fire is relatively low, less than 1%, that’s no reason not to take action to prevent a tragedy.

Clute says, “With most of the fires happening overnight, we make sure you have smoke alarms working in your house. Smoke alarms are what’s going to wake you up and make you aware of a fire.”

Believe it or not, 87% percent of homes surveyed don’t have enough working smoke detectors.

“What we like to tell people is the 1-2-10 rule. Once a month you push the button and test them. Twice a year we ask you change the batteries in them, and then once every 10 years replace them. They’re only good for 10 years,”Clute says.

Hawes says complacency is a factor as well.

“People can tend to forget they need to replace those smoke alarms, especially if they’re 10 years old or older. The efficacy tends to wear down,” he says.

And carbon monoxide detectors should be replaced every seven years.

Many fire departments, including GT Metro, will visit your home at no charge to make sure your smoke detector is ready to go.

For more on the FEMA Report, click here.

You can see Michigan’s 2020 Statistics Here.