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Wisconsin reports 51 deaths associated with home fires so far this year

A fire destroys a home in the Town of Newbold. No one was killed in this fire.
Pine Lake Fire Department
A fire destroys a home in the Town of Newbold. No one was killed in this fire.

More than 50 people have died in house fires so far this year.

That’s nearly a dozen more than the year before and part of an upward trend of home fire deaths nationwide.

Seeing the statistics of all the people that have died this year after their homes caught fire, one word comes top of mind for Merrill Fire Chief Josh Klug: disappointment.

“We feel, in the fire service, that we’ve been proactive for so many years in education and prevention that to have high numbers like that is kind of disappointing. And it’s maybe a reflection or a potential chance to re-evaluate the effectiveness of our programs,” said Klug.

Klug says smoke detectors are going to be your first line of defense against a fire.

There should be at minimum one on every level of your home. It’s good to place them outside bedroom doors and inside each bedroom if you’re able.

“It’s more important than ever. Today’s fire is just so much faster than in previous years because of the combustibles inside the building,” said Klug. “When it spreads so much quicker, what used to maybe give us 10 to 15 minutes to get out of a home, now we have 3 to 4 minutes to get out before the fire can become fatal.”

Closing your bedroom door before you go to sleep can also buy you some time to get out of the house in case of a fire.

Klug says a message fire departments have been pushing in recent years is “close before you doze.”

If the fire is on the other side of the door, you can get out a window.

Klug says this also makes it that much more important to have a fire escape plan that everyone in the home knows.

“What’ll happen is, obviously, we sleep with doors closed. I have kids in my home too. We practice those drills in the house too so that if we’re not meeting in the hallway because it’s blocked by fire or smoke perhaps, we have to trust that they’re going to go out their window and we’re all going to meet at the meeting place,” said Klug. “When the fire department does arrive, we know if everybody’s out. Or if everybody isn’t out, we can gather information to go directly to whatever room where we think we may have a victim.”

There’s typically an increase in house and apartment fires this time of year. Things that make the winter season more festive like candles and string lights can spark a fire.

Klug says it’s important not to overload outlets.

He recommends limiting what you plug into extension cords and power strips. And always plug a space heater directly into an outlet.

“Due to the fact that if there’s any kind of electrical issue, provided the wiring in the home is adequate, for some reason if there’s a surge or an interruption it would trip a breaker or fuse and prevent it from causing a fire,” said Klug.

Klug says you should never leave a heat source like that unattended. The same goes for the oven when you’re cooking or baking.

At the end of the day, Klug says it’s important to be aware of what in your home could be a potential fire risk.

“It’s really just a hyper-awareness that we need everybody to follow because of course nobody expects it to happen to them,” he said.

Klug urges everyone to make sure they have working smoke detectors.

Katie Thoresen is WXPR's News Director/Vice President.
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