Data shows increase in fires and fatalities
Elise Kaplan, Albuquerque Journal, N.M.
Apr. 9–ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – In the first three months of 2021, seven people have died in fires throughout the city – more than twice the number there were in 2020 and almost as many as there were in all of 2019.
It’s a statistic that Albuquerque Fire Rescue finds concerning.
Tom Ruiz, an AFR spokesman, said that in recent months firefighters have been called to a lot more structure fires – for instance there were more than 100 a month over the coldest part of winter when in past years there were fewer than 80.
“Anytime you get an increase in structure fires, there is the risk of fire fatalities,” Ruiz said. “And that’s what has happened.”
According to AFR data, in 2019 there were 788 fires and eight people were killed, and in 2020 there were 800 fires and three people killed. So far, in the first three months of 2021 there have been 245 fires and seven people have been killed.
Ruiz said at least 14 of the 18 people who died over the past couple of years were male. He did not identify any of the people who died.
Ruiz speculated that the lockdown for the COVID-19 pandemic could have contributed to the increase in fires.
“A lot of this sort of ‘bread and butter’ house fires – even cooking related emergencies and heater related emergencies, whether that’s a malfunctioning space heater, or somebody who’s using something inappropriately – those numbers have gone up just because I think more people are home,” he said.
Of the six fatal fires in 2021 – one left two people dead – investigators determined at least three involved homes without smoke alarms. Two had smoke alarms and another Ruiz said was “unknown.”
That fact made fire department officials want to get the word out about the necessity to have a smoke alarm and make sure it works.
“One fire specifically, that we went to in the Southeast, a father and his kids were able to get out of the house because they had a proper functioning, in-place smoke alarm …,” Ruiz said. “So as a direct result of a working smoke alarm, we could say that family was able to get out and survive a fire. (Conversely), we know that there’s a couple circumstances in terms of fatalities that were the result of either a nonexistent or a not working smoke alarm.”
Shortly before 6 a.m. Jan. 6, firefighters were called to a fire at the Siegel Select Extended Stay Hotel on University north of Interstate 40.
When they arrived they pulled a man from the room on the second story where the fire had started and prevented the flames from spreading.
The man died as a result of the fire. Ruiz said there was a smoke alarm present and the cause of the fire is undetermined.
Ten days later AFR crews were called to a mobile home park on the Pan American Freeway north of Paseo Del Norte around 4:15 a.m. When they arrived they found the home engulfed in flames.
Ruiz said a person died as a result of this fire and it’s unknown if there was a smoke alarm present. He said the cause was undetermined.
And another 12 days after that – on Jan. 28 – firefighters were called to a home on La Veta, near San Mateo and Indian School NE.
There was light smoke showing and crews forced their way inside to find an adult man, later determined to be the homeowner, dead.
Ruiz said the cause of the fire was accidental and there was not a smoke alarm in the house.
On Feb. 20, there was a fatal fire on Wild Horse Trail, near Juan Tabo south of Central. Ruiz said the cause was accidental and there was not a smoke alarm but he could not provide any other details.
On Feb. 23, shortly before 7 a.m. fire crews were called to Kathryn, near Broadway and Avenida Cesar Chavez SE, for a fire that had thick black smoke coming from multiple sides of the house.
Firefighters fought the flames for more than 20 minutes before bringing it under control. When they entered the home they found two people dead.
Ruiz said the cause is accidental and the home did not have a smoke alarm.
On March 21 there was a fatal fire on San Jacinto, near Lomas and Eubank NE. Ruiz said the cause of the fire was accidental and there was a smoke alarm but he could not provide any other details.
Ruiz recommended people visit the fire department’s website to learn more about fire safety tips and how to properly install a smoke alarm.
“I think the main point that we want to stress is fire safety tips that are really easy to use and implement and remember to help prevent some of those accidental causes of the fires, whether they’re heat related, cooking related or electrical,” Ruiz said. “So really it is just about common sense fire safety practices that we can pass along to help people just stay safe during the day and at night.”
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