Highlands blaze offers lessons in fire safety
May 6, 2016
A structure fire in the Winter Park Highlands nearly two weeks ago ended without injuries but the incident resulted in a close call for five guests of a local residence and offers a teachable moment for the community in terms of fire safety.
Grand Fire Protection District Assistant Chief Schelly Olson discussed lessons learned from the incident and what local citizens can do to mitigate their own fire hazards as springs transitions into summer.
The Highlands structure fire was sparked during the early morning hours of April 23 when guests staying at a home in the Winter Park Highlands, who arrived at the residence around midnight, accidently turned on the home's indoor sauna controls, which they mistook for the home's central heating thermostat. At the time a futon type mattress was being stored inside the home's sauna room and the sauna's heater ignited the mattress and initiated the structure fire.
The guests of the property managed to get out of the residence, but just barely, leaving with the clothes on their backs but without shoes. According to East Grand Fire Protection District Acting Chief Dennis Soles one of the guests of the residence awoke shortly after 1 a.m. and discovered smoke in the residence, prompting the emergency call. Soles said the guests of the property initially found themselves caught inside the house with the fire between them and the exit door but were able to escape without incident.
The fire could have been significantly worse for a number of reasons. The residence that caught fire did not have functioning smoke detectors, said Olson. If one of the guests of the home in the Highlands had not awoken as the blaze got underway the outcome could have been significantly worse. Smoke detectors are required by code in all new home construction but older homes often lack smoke detectors, let alone the full contingent recommended for fire safety, she said.
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and local fire protection districts recommend smoke detectors be installed on every level of a home and additional smoke detectors should be installed inside and directly outside every sleeping area.
"The best way is to have them hardwired into the system and interconnected throughout the whole house," Olson said. "If that is not an option battery operated detectors are just fine… Smoke detectors save lives."
Smoke detectors are useless though if they are not functioning. To that end Olson stressed the importance of making sure smoke detector batteries are replaced regularly, every six months.
Recently the Grand Fire Protection District began conducting business inspections for fire code compliance in the Granby area. Olson said the department has seen a large amount, as high as 75 percent, of local businesses without smoke detectors, typically those housed in older buildings.
"We educate them [businesses] and give them information," Olson said. "We tell them to call us back when they are ready. We have had great success with business owners complying with recommendations from the fire department."
Olson also highlighted a critical aspect of the Highlands structure fire that could have resulted in tragedy. When the guests of the residence called 911 to report the fire they did not know the address of the home at which they were staying. County Dispatch was able to ping the cell phone used for the call, which provided an address on Grand County Road 853. However because of a unique quirk that occurred while the property was being built the residence could only be accessed via Grand County Road 859.
"This was challenging to say the least," Olson stated.
Olson recommended anyone allowing friends or family to stay at their home should inform their guests of the correct address of the property, likewise for those who rent out their homes to tourists. Similarly property owners are encouraged to clearly display a home's address outside a property so first responders can easily locate it. Structure fires are often contained within chimneys or on lower levels of buildings, making it all but impossible to determine which structure is on fire from the outside.
Olson highlighted the importance of good house keeping, to prevent combustible materials like newspapers from piling up and creating fire hazards but also to insure clear entry and egress from a residence, which can be critical factors in the event of a fire. Other fire hazards citizens can mitigate in their own homes include proper use of extension cords, surge protectors and electronic devices.
Fire departments recommend only one heat-producing appliance be plugged into any one electrical outlet, even if using a surge protector. Olson said extension cords are fine to use but should only be used temporarily and the cords should not remain plugged in fulltime.
While it doesn't necessarily fall under the umbrella of fire safety Olson also highlighted the importance of having functioning carbon monoxide detectors in any homes that do not use electricity for both heating and cooking. Olson recommended installing carbon monoxide detectors on every level of a home and installing additional detectors outside every sleeping area.
The Grand Fire Protection District offers Home Safety Survey services to the residents of the district wherein officials from Grand Fire will come to your home, review your current safety measures and provide recommendations as needed. "It is purely informational and safety minded," Olson said. "It is not to punish anybody." The Home Safety Survey's are provided to residents of the district at no charge.