Four fires that burned three homes and a deck in the last two weeks were all preventable if the occupants had followed a few simple guidelines, the Payson Fire Department said.
Simple things like installing a working fire alarm, putting ashes out before throwing them away, keeping matches away from children and not using accelerants in a wood burning stove could have saved these homeowners a lot of hassle.
“Our purpose is not to judge or preach, but to remind and educate,” said Payson Fire Marshal Bob Lockhart. “The only true fire science is prevention.”
The first avoidable fire happened March 28, when a man, hoping to rid his yard of gophers, lit two gas bombs and placed them under his home. The flammable bombs, appropriately called “The Giant Destroyer,” are supposed to be put underground and not under a structure. The man, who apparently did not read the product’s warning labels, pushed the ticking time bombs under his home and watched in horror as it quickly caught fire.
“He had no idea it would light the whole house on fire,” Lockhart said.
Further exasperating the problem, the man tried to fight the fire with a garden hose instead of calling the fire department. A neighbor eventually called for help, but the home was a total loss.
“He should have called for help immediately,” Lockhart said. “You shouldn’t ever fight a fire yourself.”
On May 1, another neighbor saved the day when they called 911 after seeing smoke coming from a nearby deck. The homeowners had inadvertently put a box of “cold ashes” on their back porch, on South Hermosillo, and left. The ashes, which were still hot in the center, caught the box on fire and spread to the porch. Firefighters put the small fire out before it could spread to the home.
“The fireplace or woodstove, which we enjoy and rely on for heating, eventually must be cleaned by removing what appear to be cold and benign ashes,” he said. “The problem is, ashes are often not as cool or benign as the resident assumes. The ashes are scooped into a combustible vessel and placed on a wooden deck, intended for disposal at a more convenient time.”
Since it can take days for ashes to fully cool completely, it is best to put them in a noncombustible container with a lid and place the container on a concrete or noncombustible surface far away from any structures, he said.
Every year, the PFD responds to a handful of similar fires, which are easily prevented.
Treat ashes like they “are always hot and always dangerous,” Lockhart said.
The third most recent fire, on May 3, in the 100 block of West Glade, could have been averted easily if the renter had followed the manufacturer’s directions for operating a wood burning stove and called for help sooner.
Lockhart believes the man started the stove with gasoline, which likely sent a puff of accelerant through the chimney pipe, separating the pipe in the attic with the pipe leading outside.
Smoke started filling the attic and a fire eventually broke out. The man smelled the smoke and instead of calling for help, tore down the ceiling for nearly an hour, trying to put it out. When it became evident, he could not fight the fire, he called for help, but the trailer was already severely damaged.
The latest fire started on Saturday when a 3-year-old got a hold of a box of matches and started playing with them in his bunk bed.
Again, if the occupants had followed a few simple guidelines, like putting batteries in their detector and putting matches out of reach of children, the whole ordeal could have been avoided, Lockhart said.