Cold weather brings fire season

It's no accident that the usual arrival of cool weather and the annual observance of Fire Prevention Week occur about the same time - early in October. Cool weather means the start of the indoor heating season, more time spent indoors and a sadly predictable increase in the number of residential fires. There's no better time, then, to remind the public aware of the dangers fires pose to life and to property?

The peril is real. U.S. fire departments responded to an average of 371,700 home structure fires annually between 2006 and 2010, according to the National Fire Protection Association. The blazes were deadly and costly. Home fires, the NFPA reports, cause an estimated average of 2,490 deaths and $7.2 billion in property damage annually.

Residential fires occur despite the work of a national network of agencies like the Fire Prevention Bureau here. Officials know that smoking, faulty heating and electrical equipment and cooking cause the most residential fires, but, unfortunately, they are unable to stop them. Educational campaigns like Fire Prevention Week are one positive way to warn people about danger and to promote safety.

Cooking-related fires remain the top cause - 42 percent - of home fires in the nation. The remedy is simple: Remain in the kitchen when frying, grilling or broiling food. If you can't stay in the kitchen while cooking, turn off the stove when you leave the room. That advice, clearly, is often ignored.

The same is true of smoking. Most people surely know that smoking a cigarette, pipe or cigar in bed or on a couch or chair -- especially when the hour is late and eyes grow heavy, is an invitation to disaster. Indeed, though smoking causes a smaller percentage of house fires than cooking, it is the leading cause of home fire deaths.

Space heaters and faulty electrical wiring are another major cause of home fires. Those who live in older or substandard residences are most at risk. Those homes frequently are poorly insulated and difficult to heat so residents employ portable heaters to keep warm. Frequently, the heaters are placed too close to bedding and other flammable materials and even when they re not, the heavy load of a portable appliance prompts an electrical fire. There is remedy, but many communities are unable or unwilling to pursue it.

A broad-based effort to bring substandard housing up to code and to require smoke detectors, especially in rental properties, surely would lower the number of residential fires and reduce related deaths, injuries and property damage. Public officials should make that a priority.

Fire departments here and elsewhere work year-around to promote safety. And when a blaze does occur, professional and volunteer departments work valiantly to limit life and property loss. Even so, fall often means more residential fires.

No one wants to become part of that seasonal tally. Caution and familiarity with safety rules can help limit fire's disastrous toll - whatever the season.