Fatal house fires underscore need for precautions

(The Gazette) In the span of just five days leading up to Christmas, Iowa?s grim tally of people killed this year in house fires grew sharply after seven people ? including children ? were killed in two fires in one pocket of Eastern Iowa.

The deaths raise concerns among firefighting professionals that too many people are not taking the basic precaution of having working smoke detectors in their homes, and not paying enough attention to the potentially life threatening juxtaposition this time of year of space heaters, wrapping paper and drying Christmas trees.

On Thursday, a mom and two of her children ? Kelsey Clain, 23, Jayden Smead, 5, and Carson Smead, 2 ? were killed when a mobile home in Davenport caught fire. Two other children injured in the fire were being treated at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.

Authorities said there were no working smoke detectors in the home.

Then early Christmas Day, four more people were killed after a house fire broke out in Blue Grass, a bedroom community about 15 minutes west of Davenport that straddles the Scott-Muscatine County line.

Police have not released the names of those killed or said what they believe caused the fire.

In a news release, Blue Grass police said one was able to escape the burning ranch-style house and was transported to a hospital, but later died there. Three others were trapped and died inside.

?Being from a small town, you deal with the tragedy maybe a little bit differently,? said Blue Grass Mayor Tim Brandenburg, who was at the scene. He said the community, which is home to about 1,500, will come together to try to cope.

On his Facebook page, Brandenburg asked for prayers for those fighting the fire and responding to the scene: ? ... (M) any are young firefighters seeing this tragedy first hand for the first time.?

Crews removed debris from the charred wreckage of the house, which sits next to a garage with a basketball hoop.

Outside the home were some children?s toys, including a little yellow car and a wheeled vehicle for a small child.

According to data from Iowa?s State Fire Marshal Division, 28 people died in 21 residential fires ? including those in apartments and manufactured homes ? in the first 11 months of 2017.

Of those 21 fires, smoke detectors in six of them either were not present or not in working order. In another five fires, authorities could not say whether the detectors were working.

This time of year ? with overnight temperatures dipping below zero in Iowa ? the combination of heating, holiday decorations and candles can contribute to an increased risk of fire, according to the National Fire Protection Association. The association reports that home fires occur more in winter than in any other season. Additionally, heating equipment is involved in one of every five home fire deaths nationally.

While Christmas trees themselves typically aren?t the cause of a fire, they can add fuel to one.

?Christmas trees add to the fire load in the room,? said Davenport District Chief Paul Hartman, who noted that many homes also are cluttered with presents and wrapping paper at the holiday.

The Cedar Rapids Fire Department has recommended using only those space heaters approved by Underwriter?s Laboratory, and then keeping them a safe distance from other objects.

Other fire safety tips the department makes:

--Install smoke alarms on each level of the home and in all sleeping areas;

--Make sure you can hear a smoke alarm when activated;

--Test the alarms monthly;

--Change batteries in the alarms once a year

--Replace alarms that are older than 10.