Forty-five seconds before the end of the Rose Bowl game, which my beloved Oregon Ducks won, the phone rang. It was the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department, calling to advise me of a house fire in Mason District, with displacement of residents and more than $100,000 in damage.
The cause of the fire was traced to a youngster playing with a cigarette lighter. What a way for a family to start the New Year! A fire in another part of Fairfax County was caused by a crack in the seam of a zero-clearance chimney, which allowed flames to creep out of the contained space and set the attic and garage on fire. It is not known whether last summer’s earthquake caused the malfunction, but the homeowner admitted that the fireplace had not been cleaned or inspected for several years.
Fortunately, other than significant property damage, there were no injuries to firefighters or residents as a result of these incidents. However, it does serve as a reminder that fire safety, especially during the winter, should be of paramount importance for all homeowners. No one knows how much unseen damage was caused by the earthquake, so it is a good idea to have your chimney inspected before using it this year. And when you do use your fireplace, remember to remove the ashes to a metal container, and place it away from the house (not on the deck or in the garage) until you are ready to dispose of them. Fire professionals say that ashes can stay hot for a long time, so extra care with disposal is necessary.
Always keep lighters and matches away from children, and teach them to respect fire, not play with it. I remember helping a young Girl Scout light a kerosene lantern (a badge requirement) on a camping trip. She was terrified to be holding a match because her father had forbidden such activity. When I explained that she was learning a skill from an adult, not playing with fire, she eventually calmed down and managed to light the lantern successfully by the end of the weekend. It was, perhaps, a lesson in perseverance for her, and a lesson in patience for me.
Fire Prevention Division Chief Dereck Baker, formerly Captain at Annandale Station 8, announced this week that 2011 marked a significant achievement for the Fairfax Fire and Rescue Department: for the first time in the department’s 62-year history, there were no recorded fire fatalities in the county. This was outstanding news, and speaks to the extensive public education and outreach programs fostered by the department and its personnel. One program, Juvenile Fire Stop, counseled about 300 parents and children last year about fire science, consequences and responsibilities, and legal issues. Participants are referred by therapists, counselors, and the court, but often it is parents who self-refer, trying to find help for a child with an unhealthy interest in fire. The program consists of at least three sessions with staff from the department’s Life Safety Education office, professional fire personnel, and probation officers. For more information about fire safety, log on to www.fairfaxcounty.gov/fr/educate/.
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be e-mailed at [email protected]