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No working smoke detectors in fatal fire

March 3, 2008, Hamilton, Ont. - The message from fire officials at the scene of a devastating blaze in west Hamilton that claimed the lives of a mother and her three young daughters is clear: smoke detectors save lives.

March 3, 2008  By The Canadian Press

Standing outside the charred remains of the single family home Sunday afternoon where a 19-year-old male resident also lost his life during the wee hours of Saturday morning, Pierre Yelle of the Ontario Fire Marshal's Office delivered the sad news that the human tragedy may have been averted had there been working smoke detectors

“At this point in the investigation there is no evidence to show there were functioning fire alarms or smoke detectors present in the home at the time of these events,'' he said.

“The Ontario Fire Marshal's Office urges everyone to have smoke alarms properly installed inside their homes and ensure they are in proper working order.''

Noting this is the fourth fatal fire in Ontario this weekend alone, Yelle said it's time people get the hint.


Of the 521 fire fatalities over the last decade, half may have been prevented had detectors been present, he added.

“Smoke alarms are obviously very valuable because they create an opportunity for you to escape,'' he said.

Yelle said families also need to devise an escape plan so they know exactly what to do in the event of a fire emergency.

Investigators have identified the victims of Saturday's blaze as 22-year-old Melissa Denhollander and her daughters Emma Denhollander-Hanigan, 4, Ella, 2 and Alana, 1.

Yelle said Ella had been evacuated and placed on life support in hospital immediately after the blaze but later succumbed to her injuries.

The body of a 19-year-old man, whose name is being withheld pending notification of next of kin, was discovered in the living room after firefighters brought the blaze under control.

Denhollander's 28-year-old boyfriend, Richard Griffin, remains at the Hamilton General where he's recovering from burns and smoke inhalation, while a 20-year-old woman has since been treated in hospital and released.

Patti Dixon lost her daughter and three grandchildren in the fire.

“To take one thing away from you, but to take four, four innocent people,'' a sobbing Dixon told CTV News. “She was a good mother. It shouldn't have happened.''

Dixon told the Hamilton Spectator she wants to bury her daughter and three grandchildren in the same casket. Her daughter can't be separated from her three girls, Dixon said.

Yelle said investigators are still trying to determine the origin, cause and circumstances surrounding the blaze that occurred around 2:40 a.m. Saturday.

A tragic weekend for fires in Ontario, officials said there were eight fatalities across the province including a fire-related death at a Niagara Falls motel. It brings the total number of fire deaths in the province to 32.

“We're definitely at this time compared to last year seeing a significant increase,'' Yelle said.

“Obviously the fatal fires that have occurred in the last three days impacted significantly on the statistics.''

Investigators from the Fire Marshal's Office were expected to remain at the scene until a cause of the fire can be determined, as are local homicide detectives who are called in whenever there is a death involving a child under the age of five.

Meanwhile, Hamilton Fire Chief Jim Kay is calling for an advisory board to look into why there are so many fatal fires in Hamilton and what can be done to prevent them.

While it became law two years to have working smoke detectors on every floor of a premises, officials said it's too soon to say whether criminal charges will be laid as a result of the Hamilton blaze which has been dubbed the worst single fatal fire in the
city's history.

The province is currently considering changes to the building code which would require sprinklers in all new residential homes three storeys or taller.

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