STATEWIDE – As 2019 draws to a close, state offices are coming out with some of the more somber facts and figures.
This year, there have been 18 fatal fires in Maine. That is about average, according to Maine State Fire Marshal Joe Thomas.
“We’ve had as low as 12, and we’ve been up close to 30, but marginally it runs pretty much around 20 people a year,” said Thomas.
He said two of those fatal fires were due to electrical problems. The rest have something in common.
“Most of our fatal fire causes have got the human element tied to it somehow,” said Thomas.
Like a fatal fire in North Anson at the beginning of this year, caused by combustible materials being too close to an electric heater.
More recently, an early December fire in Rockport was caused by smoking in bed.
“We used to have a busy season and a less busy season. We don’t see that anymore. We see fires happening all the time,” said Thomas.
The 18 fatalities include Berwick Fire Captain Joel Barnes, killed in the line of duty in March.
Thomas said that number does not include Farmington Fire Captain Michael Bell, who died not from fire, but from injuries sustained in a building explosion.
“We’re seeing more fires where clearly, the fire has full control of that home when the firefighters get there,” said Thomas.
According to him, modern furnishings catch fire more easily, meaning homeowners have less time to get out, now only about three to four minutes.
A fatal fire this month in Mattawamkeag happened down the street from the town’s fire station.
The fire chief, Michael Coombs, said at the time, “when we arrived, the roof had already caved in, the building was fully involved with fire.”
Thomas said it’s more common now to see homes completely destroyed.
He reminds the public many of these fires were preventable.