Officials investigate fires, other hazards in wake of outages

James McLeod
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Emergency Services Minister Steve Kent says that fire incidents just seem to happen more when there are power outages.

Emergency Services Minister Steve Kent says that fire incidents just seem to happen more when there are power outages.

They weren’t all related to the power outages of the past month, but there were a raft of fires across the province that coincided with the rolling blackouts.

There were two fires in Corner Brook, one in Stephenville Crossing and another one in Bonavista.

“It’s not uncommon to see an increase in the number of fire-related incidents when there’s a power outage or a major weather situation,” Kent said. “It’s certainly alarming that there have been fatalities already in 2014, and our condolences certainly go out to the families and friends of those who have lost their lives in recent tragedies.”

When the power goes out, people use candles more frequently, and some people do things like bring barbecues indoors to cook or a generator indoors for power. That sort of thing can be dangerous.

“It’s something that they haven’t done before so they don’t understand the risk and the hazards,” said fire commissioner Derek Simmons.

He said in the wake of the January fires, his office will investigate each of them, as they do with fires in the province year-round.

Simmons said they’re constantly looking for trends and root causes of the fires that they see.

If, for example, dryers are causing a raft of fires, it might mean that there’s something wrong and there should be a product recall.

In other cases, if there’s a trend involving unsafe practices, maybe the government needs to create a public awareness campaign.

One of the messages that Kent was sending to people during the blackouts, and afterwards, is that if your pipes are frozen, trying to thaw them out can be dangerous.

He said people might try to use a blowtorch or leave a heater underneath frozen pipes, but doing that can be a fire hazard.

“The real key with frozen pipes is to never try to do it yourself,” he said.

“It might be instinct to try and solve your problem in your house when it occurs, but it’s critical that people engage professionals if they’re dealing with frozen pipes.”

Beyond the fires, Kent said that his department is now looking at how the provincial government handled the blackouts, and if there any lessons to be learned.

“We’re certainly going through that process of examining everything that’s happened in recent weeks and seeing what we can learn from the situation, and we’re asking each of our partners, each of our emergency response partners to do the same.”

He said he’s asking municipalities to do the same thing, and really, that’s not a bad idea for everyone to do.

“I anticipate that it’s a long winter ahead and I think in lots of ways the incidents of the past couple  of  weeks are a wake-up call to make sure that individuals are prepared and communities are prepared.”

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Geographic location: Corner Brook, Stephenville Crossing, Bonavista

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