Cause of Smith Street fire still undetermined

The occupants of a two-storey house on Smith Street were lucky to get out alive after a fire destroyed the inside of their residence on Wednesday morning.

  • Feb. 1, 2011 9:00 a.m.

The occupants of a two-storey house on Smith Street were lucky to get out alive after a fire destroyed the inside of their residence on Wednesday morning.

The Williams Lake Fire Department was called to the scene at 3:30 a.m. to find the house spewing smoke.

The two tenants — a mother and child who lived upstairs and a second resident downstairs — escaped the house in spite of the absence of working smoke detectors.

“The tenant upstairs heard a noise and opened up the bedroom door and discovered the hallway was thick with smoke,” said Williams Lake fire chief Randy Isfeld.

“She closed the door and escaped via the bedroom window with her six-month baby.

“From what I understand the individual downstairs was awoken at the same time and he managed to get out the front door.”

The cause of the fire is undetermined.

Isfeld estimates that due to heat and smoke damage the interior of the house was destroyed, although he could not give a dollar figure on the damage.

The house was insured but neither tenant had contents insurance.

Isfeld says because there were no working smoke alarms in the home the tenants are fortunate to have escaped.

“There were some (fire alarms) there but they had been disabled,” he said.

“It was a bad situation. This could have been much worse than it was in that sense.”

The department finds “more frequently than we should” either smoke detectors without working batteries or ones where the battery has been removed.

Des Webster, deputy fire chief, says that this is often due to the fact that people become fed up with false alarms and simply remove the batteries from detectors.

What they should be doing instead, he says, is changing the type of detector.

According to Webster, the most common type of detector to be installed in homes is an ionization one.

But there are also photoelectric detectors.

They are both effective at detecting fires but identify different parts of the fire.

The ionization detector picks up small particles or steam in the air and that is why they are problematic in or near kitchens or bathrooms, for example.

In those areas a photoelectric device would result in fewer false alarms.

“Rather than taking the batteries out of the nuisance alarm just change it to a photoelectric type and it gives you less false alarms,” Webster says.

As of 2010, the provincial Fire Services Act made it illegal for homes to be without working smoke detectors.

The penalty applied for not having smoke alarms has been left up to individual municipalities and Webster says the city doesn’t currently have a bylaw in place to deal with the issue. He says what is preferable to penalty is education.

“Most home fires start at night when people are sleeping.

“Having a working smoke alarm in your house in the proper areas and properly installed can increase your chances of survival by more than 50 per cent,” he says, noting giving people that information usually convinces them to install or maintain their alarms.

Webster further suggests smoke alarms be one part of a fire-safety plan that should also include knowing and practicing a fire-escape route with household members.

It is recommended that homes have at least one working smoke alarm per floor, as well as one in each bedroom.