Microwaves may have made food easier than ever to prepare but that convenience has come at a cost.
“The last few years the (fire) call that has really increased is the microwave,” said Mark Hoveling, fire prevention officer with City of Lethbridge, Fire & Emergency Service.
What happens, he said, is people intend to heat a food item for two minutes and accidentally also hit the zero button, bumping up the heating time to 20 minutes. When they notice smoke circulating inside the microwave, they open the door “and introduce air and have a bit of a fire.”
“Just a reminder, if you have a fire inside the microwave or stove, keep the door closed.”
That’s sage advice since unattended cooking is the number one cause of home fires and fire injuries, based on provincial fire stats.
Fire Prevention Week runs Oct. 9-15. To raise awareness about fire prevention, fire department members will spend the week speaking to students in schools that will hold fire drills, 14 people will be honoured in city council chambers as Community Heroes on Oct. 7 for their quick actions that helped extinguish fires and one lucky city school child in kindergarden to Grade 3 will have their name drawn to be Fire Chief for a Day.
Every year, Alberta averages 31 deaths, 230 injuries and more than $380 million in direct property loss due to house fires, according to the province.
Looking at Lethbridge stats for 2011, Hoveling said the number of fire calls appears to be on par with previous years.
In early August, the city reminded residents of fire-safety tips after fire and emergency services responded to 11 fires in July alone. Property damages that month tallied more than $1 million with a northside four-plex, and single-family homes in Uplands and Copperwood ravaged in separate blazes.
“We’ve had about the same number of fires this year but we’ve had ones that really made the news because they caused so much damage,” he said. “A lot of the fires we do are in the back lanes, a small little fire that we knock down right away but this year has been a big year for dollars in damages.”
There has been no significant commercial-building fires this year as of press time similar to the one that levelled the Triple M Housing plant in 2007.
According to the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs, the peak time for structure fires in North America occur during the cooler months with January being the highest between the hours of 5 p.m.–8 p.m. and occur on weekends on Saturday and Sunday.
Hoveling said the that peak time for fires holds true for Lethbridge. The fire department responded to a fire on Jan. 1 of this year.
“It never ceases to amaze me that in the two weeks before Christmas and two weeks after, we always get a good structure fire. I’ve been on the department for more than 20 years now and fire prevention for four, and every year that I can think of, we’ve had a fire,” he said.
“People say you can never predict an emergency but that’s one that never fails.”
To protect their families from fire, Albertans are encouraged to use Fire Prevention Week to draft an home escape plan should a blaze break out.
“There are steps all of us can take to reduce the chance fire will happen in our homes,” Hector Goudreau, Minister of Municipal Affairs, said in a news release. “When fire breaks out, we may only have three minutes to escape before the effects of toxic smoke take over.”
For fire-prevention tips in the home, visit www.3minutedrill.alberta.ca.
Hoveling added the week is an ideal time to change smoke-detector batteries, or replace them when the clocks are turned back on Nov. 6 to mark the end of daylight time.
“If you’ve got a battery-operated smoke detector, replace the battery once a year,” he said. “And if it’s hardwired in, you need to change it every 10 years because research has shown they lose their ability to detect smoke.”