Rebecca Quilliam is senior reporter at the NZME. News Service office in Wellington.

House fire deaths at record low

A fire at a house on Kells Ave house in Wangnaui. Photo / File
A fire at a house on Kells Ave house in Wangnaui. Photo / File

The number of deaths in avoidable residential house fires is the lowest on record, but that should not result in complacency, the fire service says.

Over the past year, 10 people have lost their lives in a fire in their home.

"It is important we all take lessons from these deaths," Fire Service chief executive and National Commander Paul Baxter said.

Over the past five years, 97 people have died in avoidable residential fires and in most cases there was no working smoke alarm to give an early warning, he said.

There were also a range of other common factors including living alone, alcohol use, leaving cooking unattended, and a significant proportion were living in rental accommodation.

The number of deaths is slowly declining with this year's toll is the lowest on record and half the number of last year's deaths, Mr Baxter said.

"However, we cannot afford to be complacent ? we are aware of some fires where families and individuals escaped death by mere seconds.

"There are still [thousands of] house fires each year and as individuals and communities, we can do more to reduce this number."

Most fires started in the kitchen during cooking, he said.

"If everyone simply stayed in the kitchen while they were preparing meals, this would reduce the number of house fires by about a quarter each year."

The last avoidable house fire death was that of a 48 year-old man on June 21 in Otago.

The rented house had no smoke alarms.

Half of all residential fire deaths took place in rental properties, yet only 35 per cent of the country's housing stock was rental, Mr Baxter said.

"I encourage all landlords to make sure they fit their homes with long life photoelectric smoke alarms.

"These long life smoke alarms will help protect both lives and property. They also have the advantage that the batteries do not need replacing and are tamper proof."

Winter was also a high risk time for fires, Mr Baxter said.

"Please take a few minutes to do a household fire safety assessment. Check or install smoke alarms, get rid of faulty electrical appliances, make an escape plan for the family, and make sure lighters and matches are out of the reach of children.

"Also make sure you keep any embers or ashes in a metal container and douse with water before disposing of them."

Fire figures

Year / Deaths / Number of residential fires (includes caravans and sleep outs excludes chimney fires)

2007/08 / 27 / 3542

2008/09 / 16 / 3732

2009/10 / 20 / 2622

2010/11 / 19 / 3490

2011/12 / 12 / 1905

2012/13 / 20 / 3237

2013/14 / 10 / 3005


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