Fire fatalities mainly caused by careless smoking

A new report released by Alaska State Troopers says fire fatalities occurring in January over the past five years were mainly due to careless smoking, with substance abuse as a contributing factor. Almost 75 percent of these fires showed that alcohol or drug use was a contributing facto.

All evidence points to the fact that people who abuse alcohol and other drugs are a growing high-risk fire group, the report said. Alcohol-impaired fire fatalities exhibit an age pattern that is quite the opposite of other fire fatality patterns in that the very young and old are not the higher risk. It is also noted that smoking combined with alcohol use, creates an even greater risk for fire injuries and fatalities, said Mahlon Greene, public education coordinator for the Alaska Division of Fire and Life Safety.

Studies have shown that more than half of all alcohol-impaired fire deaths were the result of fires caused by careless smoking. The United States Fire Administration reports that smokers consume more alcohol than do non-smokers, heavy drinking tends to be associated with heavy smoking, and a large majority of alcoholics are smokers.

“Most people are aware that smoking is bad for the health of the smoker and for the health of people around the smoker, but one of the dangers that people often forget is the relationship between smoking and the potential for fire, especially when combined with alcohol,” said Greene. “Careless smoking is the leading cause of fire deaths in Alaska and causes about 1,000 deaths each year in North America, and over $400 million in dollar loss.”

Fires are predictable, preventable occurrences, Greene said.

Alaskans can prevent such fires by making sure their homes are equipped with working smoke alarms and testing those alarms at least monthly; providing a deep-dish ashtray with a solid base, never allowing it to rest on the arm of upholstered furniture; and dousing cigarettes or ashtray contents with water before disposing of them in the trash.

Equally important is to be especially careful if alcohol or other drugs are also being used while smoking, and never smoke in bed or allow others in your home to smoke in bed, Greene said.


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