Smouldering cigarette caused blaze

January 31, 2007
Written by Fire Fighting in Canada
February 2007 - Manitoba - A smouldering cigarette mistakenly thought to have been butted out caused a blaze that killed two veteran fire captains in February, says Manitoba’s fire commissioner.
February 2007 - Manitoba - A smouldering cigarette mistakenly thought to have been butted out caused a blaze that killed two veteran fire captains in February, says Manitoba’s fire commissioner.

Doug Popowich said an 18-year-old resident of the two-storey home and a friend  were smoking in the attached garage late on the frigid afternoon of Feb. 4.

They put the cigarette out in an ashtray, then dumped the ashtray in a plastic garbage can and returned to the house, he said.

Two or three hours later, the pair smelled smoke, opened the garage door, saw thick black smoke and flames and quickly left the house to call 911.

“It’s not careless smoking, because it’s not the smoking act that caused the fire,” said Popowich. “It’s the fact the ashtrays were dumped into a receptacle that had combustible materials in it.”

He said the garbage can was against a wall connected to the house, which allowed the fire to spread.

“It’s our belief the fire was up into the walls and up into the floor space between the ceiling and the second floor, so when the fire department went in there, there was a very involved fire.”

The house, which is considered a complete write off, was owned by Richard Chartier, a judge at the Manitoba Court of Appeal. He and his wife, Liza Maheu, were out of town at the time of the fire.

Son Pierre-Marc Chartier, 18, was at home with a friend when the fire started.

Pierre-Marc told the Winnipeg Free Press that he and his friend were smoking in the garage, the only place they were allowed to, but said they put the cigarette out in an ashtray.

The Chartiers declined to comment.

Popowich said the fire is considered an accident and no charges will be laid.

Acting fire chief Jim Brennan said firefighters are not interested in blaming anyone.

“They know the risks involved. They do their job every day,” he said.

“Obviously there’s lots of ways fires start. This is simply one of them. I don’t think they (fire fighters) have any issues with the family.”

Popowich said about half of the 5,200 fires that start each year in Manitoba are accidental.

There was no smoke alarm in the garage, but that’s not uncommon because car exhaust and barbecues can set them off, he said.

Popowich noted that drywall or residential sprinklers might have helped, but are not required. He said fire officials across the country have called for the sprinklers to be mandatory, but to no avail.

“There’s all types of things that could have been done to maybe not have this happen, but it’s what the citizens are prepared to accept and have regulated.”

Popowich’s office will continue to explore other issues related to the fire, such as the building materials used to construct the 16-year-old home, how the Winnipeg Fire and Paramedic Service responded and public expectations related to how quickly firefighters go into a burning building.

A report expected this summer from the National Research Council, which will deal with building construction and fires, is also expected to help firefighters understand how fires spread.

(CP) –Michelle MacAfee

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