Despite a historical low in fire fatalities statewide, four Harford County residents died in fires this past year, up slightly from the two previous years.
The county lost three people in fires in 2011 as well as 2010, Deputy State Fire Marshal Bruce Bouch said Thursday.
Bouch, who is with the fire safety and education division of the State Fire Marshal's Office, said Maryland overall has had its lowest number of fire-related fatalities in recorded history last year.
All of Harford's fatal fires took place in the fall and winter months, and two of the victims were elderly men, who were alone in their homes. A third older male victim, in his 50s, had medical issues that may have contributed to his death, investigators have said.
The fourth victim was a 5-year-old boy, who died in a townhouse fire in which other family members escaped.
First fatality early in 2012
The first fatal fire of 2012 occurred two weeks after the year started, in the Long Bar Harbor area of Abingdon on Jan. 14.
That fire killed 88-year-old John Youngblood, who lived alone. He died as a result of heart failure from experiencing fire and smoke conditions in his second floor bedroom, according to the State Fire Marshal's Office.
The fire was deemed to be electrical, originating in a bedroom, Bouch said. Investigators said the home had working smoke detectors that activated.
The second fatal fire took place on Oct. 26, in which a 5-year-old Edgewood boy died in the 1400 block of Charlestown Drive.
The boy was killed after the townhouse caught fire from something in the basement. The boy's father escaped, along with the victim's 2-year-old sister.
The cause of that fire remains undetermined, Bouch said.
According to fire investigators, the Charlestown Drive home had working smoke detectors that activated.
Two weeks apart
The county's last two fatal fires of 2012 were both in the final month of the year and occurred a week apart, on Dec. 6 and 13.
A 52-year-old Pylesville man died from smoke inhalation on Dec. 6 from what was determined to be a "minor" electrical fire in his bedroom, according to the Fire Marshal's Office.
Sheldon "Sam" Deller, was killed when a fire broke out in the first floor bedroom of his home in the 5000 block of West Heaps Road. The 12:41 p.m. fire caused $200 damage to the two-story, wood frame dwelling, according to the State Fire Marshal's Office. The home is a block from the Norrisville
Investigators from the Maryland State Police and the Fire Marshal's Office said Mr. Deller's pre-existing medical condition may have prevented him from escaping from the home.
According to the Fire Marshal's Office, three other members of Mr. Deller's family were on the second floor watching television, while he slept in his room. The victim's sister discovered heavy smoke throughout the house and alerted the others who were upstairs. Two family members tried to rescue Mr. Deller but were unsuccessful, investigators said afterward.
Fire investigators conducted a forensic examination and determined the fire originated in an overloaded electrical outlet. The fire smothered itself out but not before releasing heavy smoke and carbon monoxide.
Norrisville Volunteer Fire Company was at the home four days before the fire and had placed five new smoke alarms throughout the home, but not in Mr. Deller's room, according to the Fire Marshal's Office.
The victim of Harford's last fatal fire of 2012 was 86-year-old George Scott, who died early on the morning of Dec. 13 in his home in the 4000 block of U Way in the Webster Village community near Havre de Grace.
Mr. Scott's body was found in a second floor bedroom of the two-story, Cape Cod style house that was built in 1950.
Mr. Scott, who was the sole occupant of the house, died from smoke inhalation and thermal injuries, according to fire investigators. The cause of that fire is still undetermined.
Working smoke alarms were in the first floor of the home, but no evidence of the devices was found on the second floor, the Fire Marshal's Office said the day following the fire.
State sets record
Although Maryland had only 52 deaths in fires last year, the lowest number in recorded history, Harford's recent record of fire fatalities has been more problematic.
In addition to the four deaths last year and three each in 2010 and 2011, there was one fire death in the county in 2008 and nine in 2007. There were no deaths in 2009.
"We don't want to see any fatal fires," Rich Gardiner, spokesman for the Harford County Volunteer Fire & EMS Association, said Thursday. "The number has been kind of holding steady at three or four per year."
Across the state, meanwhile, fatalities have been consistently falling from 94 in 2007.
"We're trending downwards overall," Bouch, of the State Fire Marshal's Office, said about Maryland's fatal fires.
He attributed a general decrease in fatalities to education efforts.
"Everybody is getting news in different ways but for people who don't get papers, for instance, they are still going online and getting things," Bouch said. "The information is getting out there."
Gardiner said many fire fatalities have a close correlation with the fire's origin and cause and the time of day the fire occurs.
"The biggest issue is the smoke detector issue," he said, adding that the county's new ordinance requiring sprinklers in new single family homes also "gives people an out."