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Fire officials aren't yet sounding the alarm about the number of structure fires in Columbia County over the past several months, but the trend is disturbing.

In October, two people escaped a burning trailer that had erupted in flames in Scappoose.

Structure Fires

Two people escaped this burning trailer home in Scappoose in October.

Structure Fires

Nine people were displaced following this apartment fire in St. Helens in February.

In mid February, nine people were displaced following an apartment fire in St. Helens.

In the past two weeks, Columbia River Fire & Rescue (CRFR) crews have responded to four additional home fires, three in St. Helens, one in Warren and a shop fire in Rainier.

While the fires are a disturbing trend, CRFR said they aren't seeing a large increase in the number of fires recently.

"Some incidents come in short waves like we experienced in the last couple days," CRFR's Jennifer Motherway said. "In 48 hours we responded to a number of fires, several are still under investigation. We did not experience any civilian or firefighter injuries during these events."

Precautions you can take

Motherway said the fire agency is encouraging community members to "remain vigilant."

"Turn off appliances, floor heaters, and non-essential powered equipment when you away from your home," she said.

Motherway provided the following list of fire prevention steps for homeowners:

  • Do not leave plug in heaters operating when you are away from home for extended periods of time.
  • Keep combustibles away from hot or operating equipment including heaters.
  • Replace frayed or damaged electrical outlets and cords.
  • Check any electrical equipment for signs of damage or misuse prior to operating the product.
  • Have smoke detectors in your home and change the batteries regularly.

Motherway also encourages residents and businesses to establish and practice a fire escape plan.

"It is a good idea to have an escape plan for your family and a meeting location should a fire occur at your residence," she said. "It is a huge benefit to the responding firefighters to know that everyone is out of the house or if there’s a potential that someone is still inside. Fighting fire is a dangerous job and it makes that job a lot easier knowing that everyone has evacuated the building prior to our arrival. Our number one priority is life safety."

Motherway said by having an escape plan and knowing where to meet outside of the building ensures that everyone is accounted for.

Defensible space

Fire districts officials across the state are encouraging property owners to make sure they have established a fire prevention perimeter around their homes by removing trees, brush, debris and relocating wood piles away from structures.

The 30 to 50 foot defensible space is especially important as the summer and fall wildfire season approaches. 

The officials also urge remote property owners to establish clear, readable home markers, addresses of structures, so if there is an active fire emergency, fire crews will be able to navigate to the scene safely and quickly.

National report

The National Fire Protection Association has compiled a detailed report about home structure fires. The following is a summary of that report.

More than one-quarter of the reported fires in 2014–2018 (27 percent) occurred in home environments. In addition, more than three-quarters of civilian fire deaths (77 percent) and almost three-quarters of reported civilian fire injuries (73 percent) were caused by home structure fires.

During this five-year period, US fire departments responded to an estimated average of 353,100 home structure fires per year. These fires caused an annual average of 2,620 civilian deaths; 11,030 civilian fire injuries; and $7.2 billion in direct property damage.

Sixty-nine percent of the reported home fires in 2014–2018 were in one- or two-family homes, including manufactured homes. These fires caused 85 percent of the home fire deaths, 65 percent of the home fire injuries, and 79 percent of the direct property damage from home fires.

Certain scenarios appear more dangerous than in the past. The death rate per 1,000 reported home fires in 2014–2018 that began with the ignition of either upholstered furniture or mattresses and bedding was more than double what it was in 1980–1984.

Most home fires and fire casualties result from five causes: cooking, heating equipment, electrical distribution and lighting equipment, intentional fire setting, and smoking materials. Over the five-year period of 2014–2018 in total, cooking was the leading cause of home fires and home fire injuries. Smoking materials caused the most home fire deaths.

Read the full report attached.

For more information about fire safety, contact your local fire district or fire department.

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