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Seasonal increase of fires can be prevented, fire department says

The recent rash of blazes in Boston is due in part to the increased fire risk that comes with the cold weather but is not unusual for this time of year, according to Boston fire officials.

In the past month, six major fires have occurred in the Hub, leading to three deaths and several injuries. There were three the night of Oct. 29 in South Boston, as well as a couple more in Dorchester and one in Mattapan. The fires may seem suspicious to Boston residents, but Steve MacDonald, a spokesman for the Boston Fire Department, said it is coincidental they have all occurred in such a short time.

According to MacDonald, the likeliness of fire increases once Daylight Savings Time ends and it gets darker earlier. Heaters in residences are often on and more time is spent inside. The recent fires were mostly caused by carelessness when putting out cigarettes and improper use of portable space heaters, he said.

MacDonald said people do not properly follow the manufacturer’s instructions on the space heaters and often place them too close to flammable material. Only one out of the six recent fires was caused by arson, and based on statistics from previous years, more fires will occur before winter is over.

Boston has 280 firefighters on duty at all times regardless of the time of year. MacDonald said he is confident that firefighters have been doing an excellent job battling recent blazes. In the massive South Boston fires there were no deaths or major injuries.

“In South Boston, if not for the efforts of the firefighters, the whole neighborhood could have been killed,” MacDonald said.

According to MacDonald, the firefighters combated fierce winds the night of the South Boston fires. So far, no firefighters have suffered any serious injuries, either.

MacDonald said in order to reduce the risk of fire, business owners and residents should have a working smoke detector on each floor. Not only does the law require this, but it is vital for a fast reaction if a fire does break out. MacDonald stressed that the detector must work and that residents should double-check their detectors.

MacDonald warned that residents must change their mindset that a fire cannot happen to them.

“Fire doesn’t discriminate. It can happen to anyone,” he said.

Improving the status of fire safety in a building takes 5 to 10 minutes, MacDonald said.

He also cautioned residents not to leave decorative candles unattended and to extinguish them before leaving the home or going to bed for the night. In addition, residents should not compensate for inadequate heating systems by overusing portable space heaters. A safer way is to get your heat checked and repaired, if necessary, MacDonald said.

He said space heaters must be kept at least three feet away from anything that could burn, and if the portable heater requires an extension cord, the cord should be at least the thickness of the cord on the heater. Fires commonly start when people “rely on cheap, thin extension cords,” MacDonald said.

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