Maine State Fire Marshal discusses increase in fatal fires

He says pandemic, changing fire dynamics play a role
Published: Jan. 6, 2022 at 6:49 PM EST
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AUGUSTA, Maine (WABI) - Following the deadliest year for fires in recent history, Maine saw its first fire fatality of 2022 on New Year’s Day.

TV5 spoke to the state fire marshal to learn about the reason behind the increase, and what can be done to prevent future tragedies.

“I don’t like what I’m seeing in the circumstances that we’re dealing with,” said Joe Thomas, Maine State Fire Marshal.

Twenty-seven people died in fires in Maine last year. Nine of those deaths happened during the day, which Thomas says is unusual and evidence the pandemic played a factor.

“The reality of the circumstances last year for 2021 were that the vast majority of people were either not working or maybe working remotely,” Thomas said. “If the person had been working they would not have been there at that time for that event to take place.”

Thomas says another contributing factor is the rise of what he calls “modern materials” in a home, such as synthetic fabrics, versus more traditional materials, such as solid wood.

“The legacy material would burn in a fashion that would provide upwards of 16 to 18 minutes before we saw flashover, which is when everything ignites and you have full involvement. Under the recent studies done by Underwriters Lab and NIST, that changed down to about three minutes,” Thomas explained.

Thomas further explained that smoke detectors can take 30 seconds to activate, shortening that escape time even further.

Thomas says it’s not enough to simply have a smoke detector in your home. You have to test it regularly to make sure it’s in working order, too.

“The other changes that are gonna make that difference are going to be stronger codes, use of residential sprinkler systems, you know, things that will make the difference for that number that we’re seeing now,” Thomas said.

According to Thomas, the most common causes of fires in Maine are cooking, heating, and smoking. He urges everyone to pay attention to what they’re doing around any potential fire hazard.

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