As a recent News Herald headline about a Thanksgiving Day tragedy reminded us, home fires remain an all-too-common event. According to a member of the Holmes County Sheriff's Office, the area emergency communications line received a call at approximately 5:20 P.M. last Thursday reporting a mobile home fire in the area north of Bonifay along Highway 79. Multiple rescue units responded, and the Bonifay and Esto Fire Department extinguished the blaze within minutes of their arrival. However, the rescue team arrived too late to save 64-year-old Michael Lynn Krontz, the only occupant of the mobile unit, whose remains were located inside the home. An investigation is ongoing and includes both the State Fire Marshall's Office as well as the Holmes County Sheriff's Office.
Our Panama City fire injury law firm knows fires are a very real danger, but our team was still surprised to read that home fires constitute the single most common disaster nationwide. Per the American Red Cross's Fire Safety Fact Sheet, a whopping 93% of disasters that the organization responded to in U.S. communities during the year prior to the info sheet's compilation were fire-related. Rather than improving, fire safety seems to be on a negative trend with the number of home fires increasing 8% since the year 2000. Fires actually lead to the deaths of more Americans each year than all forms of natural disasters combined, with a home fire reported every 80 seconds in 2006, and someone dying every 204 minutes as a result of a home fire. Despite these numbers (and a statistic that may lead to more tragedies), only 26% of families have planned and practiced a home fire escape plan.
What causes home fires? Cooking fires are the top cause of all home fires and fire-related injuries, with two-thirds of cooking fires originating with a range or stove. Heating fires represent the second leading cause of home fires. An added heating risk is carbon monoxide poisoning, with more than 200 people dying annually due to the gas, which is released by fuel burning appliances such as furnaces and room heaters. While heating and cooking lead to more fires overall, smoking is the top cause of home fire fatalities.
Home fires, fire-related injuries, and home fire deaths can be prevented. The Red Cross found that 74% of home fire deaths in 2005 occurred in homes with either no smoke alarms or none in working order. Together, sprinklers and smoke alarms can cut the risk of dying in a home fire by 82% compared to the risk in homes with neither safety device. Working fire extinguishers are another useful tool, although it is better to exit a home and call for help than it is to try and fight a fire that is too big.
There are a number of cases in which a fire-related injury or death can give rise to a civil liability claim. Some such claims fall under a product liability framework, such as where a faulty heater or a malfunctioning piece of electrical equipment sparks the blaze. Landlord/tenant law can apply where a rental unit is not equipped with proper safety devices or is not compliant with safety codes. Premises liability principles may also apply in certain fires. As a Panama City injury lawyer, Attorney Wes Pittman understands these legal principles and stands ready to help victims of Panama City fires recover compensation in civil court.