Ontario on track to surpass last year’s fire deaths, fire marshal warns

There have been 102 fire-related deaths reported so far this year

By Maan Alhmidi in Toronto

Ontario is currently on track to surpass the number of fire deaths recorded last year, the province’s fire marshal said Tuesday as he urged residents to ensure they have fire escape plans and working smoke alarms in their homes. 

Jon Pegg said there have been 102 fire-related deaths reported in Ontario so far this year, including two over the Thanksgiving weekend. That compares to a total of 124 fire deaths recorded last year, Pegg’s office said. 

“We’re heading into the winter months. We usually have higher number of house fires due to heating and trying to keep the house warm,” Pegg said in an interview. 

“November and December (are) historically two of our worst months. If they continue to be, we will have definitely our worst year on record.”

The province saw 115 fire deaths in 2020 and 72 deaths in 2019, the fire marshal’s office said. The number of fire fatalities fluctuated between 72 and 104 deaths per year between 2010 and 2018.  

Pegg said unattended cooking and careless smoking are the top two causes for house fires. 

“If you’re cooking make sure you stay with the cooking, don’t leave it unattended,” he said. “We see a big spike in fatalities and number of fires when somebody is drinking or using drugs and cooking.”

Pegg noted that the materials currently used in homes are also a factor in fire fatalities. 

“Fire burns so fast nowadays,” he said. “The materials we have in our houses … It’s more plastic-infused items. Twenty years ago, it was natural wood, it was natural fibers. Everything now is synthetic and plastic. So, I really believe the difference is what we’re furnishing our houses with.”

Pegg said people should have working smoke alarms and fire-escape plans to reduce the risk of fire fatalities. 

“(People) see (fires) on TV but for whatever reason they don’t believe that’s a fear for their own family,” he said. “They don’t think it will happen and so therefore they don’t have a working smoke alarm. And then obviously it’s too late when they do have a fire.”

Ontario building and fire codes require people to have working smoke alarms on every floor of a house. 

“A working smoke alarm is what’s going to save your life,” Pegg said.

Residents should also get their furnaces inspected by a qualified person to make sure they are safe before turning them on for the winter, Pegg added. 

The Office of the Fire Marshal has launched a challenge this week for people to create fire escape plans and post them on social media, Pegg said. 

“Just identifying that floor plan and then going through with your family in the event of a fire: ‘This is a pathway we take. This is where we will meet outside,'” he said. “Just making sure everybody in the family knows you have a plan and then they practice that plan.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 11, 2022

Banner image via The Canadian Press