Virginia fire deaths up 40% over last year

RICHMOND, Va. - Fire officials across Virginia are sounding the alarm about an increase in fire deaths across the Commonwealth this year.

The Virginia Department of Fire Programs reports that there have been 39 people killed in fires so far this year as of the end of May, which equates to about one person killed every four days.

According to the department, it's an increase about 40% over the same period in 2017 when there were 28 fire deaths.

The State Fire Marshal's Office says most of the fatal fires have been caused by human factors, with careless smoking and improperly discarded smoking materials remaining the leading cause for fatal fires.

Other causes have included portable heating equipment, unattended cooking and electrical issues.

The median age of victims is 70 years old, with many having mobility issues that prevent timely evacuation from the home.

“The best way to fight fires is to prevent them from ever starting,” said Chief Michael Reilly, Executive Director of the Virginia Department of Fire Programs. “We need to be mindful of the fire risks within our homes. Together we can prevent unnecessary loss of life and property due to fire by having working smoke alarms, practicing home escape plans and practicing fire prevention efforts every day.”

The State is providing the following safety messages to help reverse the trend:

  • Smoke outside. Modern construction materials and synthetic furnishings are creating home fires that burn faster than ever.

  • Never smoke near or while using medical oxygen.

  • Put cigarettes out all the way. Do not discard cigarettes in combustible ground cover such as mulch, potted plants or dry grass.

  • Make sure that smoke alarms are installed and operational in every sleeping room and outside any sleeping areas.

  • Develop and practice a fire escape plan at least twice a year. A home fire escape plan should include two exits from every room, a path to the outside from each exit, smoke alarms in all required locations and a meeting place outside where everyone will meet upon exiting.

  • Keep your exit routes clear of obstructions that could slow your evacuations.

  • Don’t leave individuals that are not capable of self-evacuation alone.

  • Once you get outside, stay outside. Leave the rescue efforts to our valiant firefighters.