Number Of Fire Deaths In D.C. Region Up In 2004

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The number of fire deaths in the Washington region was up in 2004, with many of fatalities happening last month.

Fifteen people died in residential fires in Prince George's County, Md. last year - more than double the number from the year before. Fifteen people also perished in the District of Columbia - three more than in 2003. Ten died in Fairfax County, Va., compared to seven the year before.

Montgomery County, Md., saw the only drop. Four people died in fires, one less than in 2003.

Fire officials say most of the deadly fires started in homes and were preventable.

``It's people smoking, cooking, using space heaters and decorative candles,'' said Capt. Chauncey Bowers, a spokesman for the Prince George's County Fire/Emergency Medical Services Department.

Last week, D.C. firefighters stepped up fire safety education efforts after a space heater was blamed for a Dec. 20 fire that killed four family members, including two children. Barely 24 hours after that blaze, a space heater sparked another fire which seriously injured two children.

``These are totally avoidable fires. They can obviously have very tragic results, and we don't want to have to respond to any more of these this winter,'' said Kathryn Friedman, spokeswoman for the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department.

Prince George's County increased its outreach efforts after a regional summit in March on the increase in fire deaths. Firefighters went door to door in neighborhoods where there were higher numbers of fires.

``One of two (homes) does not have a working smoke alarm,'' said Bowers.

Firefighters traditionally see more house fires in the colder months between December and February, but Fairfax County officials said last month was especially busy.

``(Last) Monday alone we had five fires,'' said Lt. Raul G. Castillo, spokesman, Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department.

Three of the 10 fire deaths in the county last year happened in December. December and February were the deadliest months in D.C. with four deaths each. Four people died in fires last month in Prince George's, the second highest after last January.

Besides the human cost, Castillo points to the financial losses.

Last month, 26 fires in Fairfax did $11.5 million in damage. In Dec. 2003, 11 fires did just $1.8 million in damage. One reason the figures are so staggering is the increasing number of million dollar homes, driven by the region's hot housing market, fire officials said.