The past two weeks have seen a spate of fires in the Carroll County and the Baltimore area, with four house fires in the county since Thursday, March 2, and five people dying over the weekend in fires outside of Carroll.

The tragedies have prompted both state and local officials to remind people to take fire safety seriously.

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On March 2, fire consumed a two-story, wood-frame storage building on Frizzellburg Road in Westminster, causing an estimated $1 million in damage. Three dogs died in a Saturday morning house fire, which the human family narrowly escaped, on Pouder Road in Sykesville, and another blaze later that morning, this time on Old Washington Road, caused an estimated $100,000 in damages.

Fire Marshal investigating Frizzellburg Road building fire

Approximately 60 firefighters responded to the 2000 block of Frizzellburg Road around 5:50 p.m. after a two-story wood garage or storage building caught fire.

A fire called in just after midnight Tuesday caused $2,000 in damages to a home on Bixler Church Road in Westminster.

"There have been about four fairly major fires in the past 72 hours," Carroll County Commissioner Steve Wantz, R-District 1, said at Tuesday's Board of Commissioners meeting. "Thankfully no injuries, but a reminder that we are not out of the winter season yet and that's typically when we get these fires."

A house fire on Feb. 23 in Mount Airy sent two firefighters to the hospital.

Fire officials say there is nothing particular about the winter months that make fires worse, but the tendency of people to stay inside and use heaters, fireplaces and more electronic devices can increase the likelihood that a fire will ignite.

The area's recent fire-related fatalities, including three deaths related to a fire in a Baltimore assisted living home, have prompted the Office of the State Fire Marshal to issue a news release reminding people of basic fire safety and the steps they can take to stay safe, from checking batteries in smoke detectors to making sure families have — and practice — a fire escape plan.

2 firefighters taken to hospital after Mount Airy house fire

A Mount Airy home is a total loss and two firefighters were taken to the hospital after a house fire broke out in the 1900 block of S. Main Street.

"We can't assume that we are always safe from fire. Just because it has never happened to us, doesn't mean it won't," Senior Deputy Fire Marshal Bruce Bouch said. "While our office hopes that no one ever experiences a fire, the fact of the matter is it can happen at any time."

A loose wire on a terminal in a wall outlet that begins to arc; a space heater that ignites flammable material kept within the 3-foot radius that should be kept clear; or "extension cords that are dried and cracked because you've had them since your grandparents owned them," are all fire hazards, according to Bouch, and hazards that are accentuated in the winter and during cold snaps. Fireplaces are also another perennial hazard, he said, because the buildup of creosote — a problem exacerbated by the burning of greener, unaged wood — in an uncleaned chimney can cause a fire in the chimney flue.

"If there is any failure in the flue, if you haven't had it properly cleaned and maintained and inspected to make sure there are no cracks, that's when the problems occur," Bouch said. "The fire builds up inside the flue, and it gets out through any cracks and into the wood structure that surrounds it. It usually catches the attic and roof area on fire."

At Tuesday's commissioner meeting, Wantz, who also has a long history as a volunteer firefighter, recommended that people have their chimneys inspected by a professional at least once a year.

Overnight house fire in Sykesville causes $250K in damage, kills three dogs

The fire caused $200,000 worth of damage to the structure of the house and $50,000 to the contents of the one-story dwelling.

"Folks, because of the mild winter, have kind of gotten away from checking their chimneys, and that's kind of been an afterthought," he said. "In an older home it only takes a crack in the chimney to cause some problems."

Fires, and fire fatalities especially, often come down to a simple lack of maintenance and preparation, Bouch said, with smoke detectors being a prime example. Inexpensive to install and maintain, the devices can provide people with crucial time needed to escape alive.

In the Sykesville fire that killed three dogs, "They found no evidence of any working smoke alarms," Bouch said. "They had to break out a window to get another family member out, and they got lacerations as a result of the broken glass."

Because modern home furnishings — and even modern, lightweight home construction materials — burn at higher temperatures and release more toxic gases than in the past, it is crucial that people get out of a burning house as quickly as possible, according to Bouch. Smoke detectors help with the first step of that goal, recognizing that there is a fire, but having a well-rehearsed escape plan is another form of preparation that fire officials wish people would practice.

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"The idea behind practicing the plan is because you will react instead of panic when a fire occurs because your mind will go to your training," Bouch said. "Do your children know how to escape in case a fire does occur and you're not able to get to them?"

Make sure you will be alerted to a fire, know how to get out and stay out, Bouch said, even if it means leaving animals behind. Better yet, "Have an escape plan that includes your pets."

Bouch and his wife know exactly what they will do if they have a house fire.

Fire Marshal investigating Sykesville structure fire

Approximately 60 Winfield Volunteer Fire Department firefighters responded to the 4000 block of Old Washington Road around 7:55 a.m. after a two story concrete and wood frame dwelling caught fire.

"We would go to the bedroom window, she goes out first, I hand the dogs to her, then I follow suit with the phone, we get up to the corner of the property, we call 911," he said. "When the fire department arrives, they can clearly see that all people are out of the building and then they can focus on just the fire, not the immediate stress of trying to look for someone."

When it comes to protecting pets, loved ones and property, however, one of the best interventions are home sprinkler systems.

Required in all new homes in Carroll County since 2008, sprinklers not only provide people more time to escape a fire — if they do not put out an isolated fire to begin with, they mitigate any resulting blaze to make the structure safer for firefighters, according to Bouch. In Prince George's County, where sprinklers have been required in new homes for the past 25 years, "to date, there are no fire deaths in any sprinklered dwelling."

Retrofitting an older home with sprinklers will vary greatly in cost from home to home, but for those who can afford to do so, Bouch believes it is a worthwhile investment — one that might have made a difference in the tragic January 2015 fire that destroyed a mansion in Annapolis and took six lives.

"Fire does not discriminate. It doesn't care if you're rich," Bouch said. "They had everything. They absolutely had everything. Except for residential fire sprinklers."

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More Information

In response to the recent spate of fires and fire fatalities in the region, the Office of the State Fire Marshal has released the following fire safety tips:

•Install and maintain smoke alarms on every level of your home. Test and vacuum monthly. Change batteries every year. Replace smoke alarms after every 10 years.

•Replace 9-volt battery-only smoke alarms with 10-year sealed battery smoke alarms.

•Keep bedroom doors closed when sleeping. If a fire occurs elsewhere in the home, the closed door will provide additional time to escape by blocking heat, smoke and toxic gases.

•If smoking materials are used, use a deep ashtray and smoke outdoors. Always ensure smoking materials are completely extinguished when finished.

•Keep all matches and lighters out of reach of children. Instruct children to alert an adult if they locate matches or lighters, and not to touch them.

•Never leave a burning candle unattended. Avoid using candles in bedrooms and sleeping areas. Extinguish candles when you leave a room. Keep children and pets away from burning candles. Consider using battery-operated flameless candles, which can look, smell, and feel like real candles.

•Replace frayed, cracked or otherwise damaged electrical cords.

•Limit use of extension cords and don't overload electrical circuits.

•Never run electrical cords under carpet or rugs.

•Keep the stovetop clean and remove any combustible items on or near the stove area.

•Never leave cooking food unattended. Turn off the stove if you need to leave the room.

•Have chimneys cleaned and inspected.

•Never use an accelerant in a fireplace or woodstove.

•Burn only seasoned, dry wood to help prevent creosote buildup in chimneys and woodstoves.

•Keep combustibles 3 feet away from all heating appliances, woodstoves and fireplaces.

•Portable space heaters must be plugged directly into an outlet. Never use an extension cord or multiple plug power strips, as they might overheat and cause a fire.

•Have your furnace checked and cleaned for proper operation.

•Check the clothes dryer exhaust duct and ensure lint buildup is removed. Replace the duct with noncombustible ducting where applicable.

•Vacuum bathroom exhaust fans to eliminate dust buildup on the motor and fan blades.

•Keep flammable liquids in tightly sealed containers and store away from sources of heat.

•Plan and practice your home fire escape plan at least twice a year. Know two ways out of every room. Have a predetermined meeting location outside. Get out and stay out!

•If a fire occurs inside your home, close doors as you escape to help contain the fire.

•When moving to a new location, choose a property protected with a residential fire sprinkler system.



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