House Fires: They Can Happen to Anyone

Above: The Fort Wayne Fire Department offers home fire inspections and suggests that families have a plan in case of a house fire. Photo by Erin Martin.

FORT WAYNE, Ind. – When Maddie Clay’s mother had woken pre-dawn hours on Nov. 21, 2014 to retrieve the family dog from downstairs, she saw smoke coming from the basement’s utility room and she immediately headed back upstairs to the 11 people sleeping there.

The night before, Clay’s father was finishing up a project that involved staining a door and when he was done, he set the rag down that he had been using for the night and headed upstairs. No one could have expected that mixed with the dry air, that same rag would spontaneously combust near a piece of plywood in the utility room and create a fire in the Clay’s basement.

“A fire can happen any time of year at any time of day, but there does happen to be an increase in house fires in the winter because of people turning on their heat and gas in their homes or even building a fire in their fireplace if it hasn’t been properly cleaned,” said Captain Dave Meadows of the Fort Wayne Fire Department and Safety Education Division. “Preparing for a fire is extremely important to plan for your safety, and your family’s safety too.”

“Once my mom woke up my dad and he became aware of what was happening, he woke up the house with a shout to get everyone up and within 30 seconds everyone had their coats and were by the back hallway,” said Clay.

With no initial plan or meeting place, the Clay family quickly had to decide what to do right then and there which led to the decision to meet in the cul-de-sac of their addition while a family member called 9-1-1.

“Make copies of important documents and pictures or keep the originals and place them in a fire safe box that you can keep in an accessible place,” said Cpt. Meadows on what to do in preparation for a house fire.

Brooks Huffer, a second-generation captain of the Warsaw Fire Department, has had his experience with house fires. “Keep an eye on your appliances – dryer, washer, toaster, and especially any heaters or your furnace,” said Huffer. “They are likely to catch fire if the lint trap is not cleaned out, crumb tray emptied periodically, and so on.”

Clay’s family did not have a fire extinguisher nor had they checked their smoke detectors recently. Both Cpt. Meadows and Cpt. Huffer suggested having a full fire extinguisher on hand, as well as checking your smoke detectors once a year.

“New smoke detectors are wireless and send corresponding signals to the other smoke alarms in your home, meaning if one goes off they will all go off making it difficult to ignore,” said Cpt. Meadows.

Cpt. Huffer said young children sleep deeper, making it more difficult for them to be woken up in the case of an emergency.

“Children 15 years old and younger sleep through 85% of smoke detectors because they do not hear them which is why it is extremely important for families to come up with escape plans,” said Cpt. Huffer.

Both captains expressed families should create multiple plans and practice them for different situations such as an instance where the door is too hot to open or climbing from a window. In cases where they are separated, family members must know where to meet – by a mailbox, a specific tree, or even at a neighbor’s house.

“If it’s predictable, it’s preventable,” said Cpt. Huffer. You can call the Fort Wayne Fire Department at (260) 427-1478 and ask about a home fire inspection or visit for more information on how to prepare for a fire.

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