Two fires after midnight

Two fires destroyed both homes and took the life of one, last week in Virginia. A mobile home fire yielded the fatality of a young man in Buckingham County, and a house fire caused everything to be lost in Prince George. Both of these fires are reported to be under investigation. With no information on causes, I would still like to talk about the subject of late night fires.

Most residential fire fatalities occur when people are sleeping. If the previous statement is true, and it is, then what can be done? People are killed in fires due to smoke inhalation or by being burned by the fire. The smoke inhalation could occur first, causing a person to be burned after the fact. These are things that have to be determined by a medical examiner. For the person killed by smoke inhalation, this can be avoided if there are an adequate number of properly placed and properly operating smoke alarms.

Being burned by the fire means that a person has had intimate or close contact with the fire. In other words, the person might have been smoking in bed and fell asleep, or may have attempted to fight the fire once detected or the initial fire was so intense that it engulfed the space where the person was. Another thing that must be considered in fire fatalities is whether or not a person had some type of impairment. Impairment can range from being under the influence of alcohol or drugs to being very young or very old and many other things in between.

I do not know what alerted the family in Prince George that their house was on fire. My hope is that operating smoke alarms alerted them and they were able to escape uninjured. The fact that the house was a total loss leads me to draw some conclusions. These conclusions may not have anything to do with this fire, but come from my years of experience. There is usually some kind of delay in the fire department being notified. Most times, the delay is because homeowners attempt to fight the fire themselves.

Another type of delay occurs because, in rural settings, the home is a distance from the fire station. Delays also occur in volunteer fire department settings. These delays are due to the fact that most volunteers respond to the fire station from their homes and then respond to the incident location. If there were no delays, then the problem could be a lack of water or hydrants in the vicinity of the home. I have spoken in the past about rural water supply and the fact that greater damage will occur in these situations. There could have been no delays or water issues, but simply a rapidly progressing fire. Whatever the case, the fire in Prince George had a head start on firefighters.

The blessing of the Prince George fire was that no one was injured. As difficult as it is to lose everything you own, houses can be rebuilt. In the case of a mobile home, a new one can be brought in. I saw a home that had been destroyed by fire being replaced by a modular home. The point is that buildings can be replaced, lives cannot. One family is grieving the loss of their loved one, while searching for answers as to what happened. We must learn everything that we can from the fires that occur around us. I hope that the causes of these fires, as well as the fire in eastern Henrico, will be made known to the public so that we can prevent this from occurring in our homes. Fire departments exist because fires will occur. Each one of us is responsible for preventing fires. Do your part!      

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