Fatal Connecticut Fire Reminds Homeowners of Ash Dangers

January 3, 2012

Fire safety officials are warning homeowners about the dangers of fireplace ashes after a Christmas morning blaze that killed five people in Connecticut.

Authorities say the fire in Stamford was caused by a bag of fireplace ashes left near the back of the home. Seven-year-old twin girls, their 10-year-old sister and their grandparents died.

The fire has led to renewed safety warnings by federal and local authorities.

“What often happens, and it’s a pretty common scenario that we see, is that although the fire may look out, the embers in the ashes may remain hot enough to start a fire for up to 24 hours after the fire is thought to be out,” said Tom Olshanski, a spokesman for the U.S. Fire Administration.

Olshanski and local fire officials in Stamford and other communities urged homeowners to put fireplace ashes in a metal container and place it well away from the house. If you leave hot ashes in the fireplace, make sure there’s a metal screen or glass partition in place, they said. And, of course, make sure you have working smoke detectors, they advised.

The U.S. Fire Administration says ashes can remain hot enough to start a fire for up to 24 hours. The agency recommends leaving ashes in the fireplace protected by a metal or glass screen with the damper open.

The Administration says there are about 374,900 residential building fires in the U.S. every year. Those fires kill more than 2,600 people and injure another 13,000. Cooking is the leading cause, starting 44 percent of the fires.

About 192,700 of yearly residential fires spread beyond the source, and 6 percent of those fires are caused by hot embers or ashes, the Fire Safety Administration says.

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